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Saturday, 25 January, 2003, 15:44 GMT
FBI questions Iraqi Americans
FBI agents
The questioning may go on indefinitely
Federal agents in the United States are interviewing as many as 50,000 Iraqis to glean information which could be helpful in the event of war.

Officials in Washington told journalists that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had begun interviews several months ago and they were due to continue indefinitely.

They are asking about terrorist cells

Aziz al-Taee
head of the Iraqi-American Council
Most interviewees are believed to be hostile to Saddam Hussein's regime but the officials said they also hoped to expose any "whose loyalty is contrary to US best interests".

The FBI is reported to be enlisting the help of campus police officers in colleges and universities in an effort to monitor foreign students.

The US is home to about 300,000 people of Iraqi origin, according to the Iraqi-American Council, with large Iraqi communities in Michigan, California, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

US officials said that the questioning was following two strands:

  • To detect any links between American Iraqis and Islamic militant groups.

  • To gather information about the working of Iraq's defences and government and its possible weaknesses.

'Terrorist cells'

"We are trying to reach for their help," one official told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity.

"They may know something that may be helpful."

The official compared the FBI drive to checks on Middle Eastern males in the wake of the 11 September terror attacks.

The head of the Iraqi-American Council, Aziz al-Taee, confirmed for the Associated Press that interviews had taken place and people questioned had told him that the FBI was "asking if anybody knows someone who worked with Saddam".

"They asked about a list of some who have vanished. They are asking about terrorist cells," said Mr al-Taee.

Eyes and ears

FBI agents have been forging working relationships with campus police departments at colleges and universities to keep tabs on foreign students, a report in the Washington Post says.

Government officials said the campaign began after 11 September and was mainly aimed at keeping track of Middle Eastern students who keep to their own communities.

More than 200,000 foreign nationals are currently studying in the US.

Scott Doner, campus police chief at the Valdosta State University in Georgia, stressed the role campus officers could play.

"The FBI... are realising we do have police departments and we can play a vital role in stopping terrorism," said Mr Doner, who also heads the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

"Everybody's got to have their eyes and ears open to make sure something doesn't happen again."

But the development is also alarming human rights activists concerned that it could signal a return to the spying on students typical of the Vietnam War years.


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24 Jan 03 | Americas
19 Dec 02 | Americas
27 Sep 02 | Middle East
12 Nov 02 | Americas
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