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 Monday, 27 January, 2003, 13:16 GMT
FBI 'seeks 3,000 missing Iraqis'
FBI agents search house of missing Saudi family in Florida
FBI tactics worry some Arab-American groups
Federal agents in the US are hunting for about 3,000 illegal Iraqi immigrants who have gone missing, The Washington Post has reported.

It is feared some could be connected with extremist groups or be agents of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, unnamed officials told the newspaper.

They could have gone back home, they could have gone to another country, or they could still be here. There is a strong belief that we need to find out one way or the other

US official
"We don't really know how big the problem is or how big the threat might be, but the possibility is real," a senior US counter-terrorism official said.

Those missing are among 50,000 Iraqi immigrants the FBI wants to interview as the US threatens military action against Baghdad.

Agents want to glean information from them that could be useful in a war.

Most Iraqi immigrants are believed to be opposed to Saddam Hussein, but security chiefs are worried about those who cannot be traced, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

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

Visa violations

Officials said Saddam Hussein's regime was known to have recruited Iraqi students in the US to gather intelligence on American technology.

The FBI launched its hunt when figures from the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) revealed the number of Iraqi visitors who had been ordered deported for overstaying visas or other violations, but had then vanished.

"Quite frankly, we don't know what their status is," a law enforcement official told the newspaper.

"They could have gone back home, they could have gone to another country, or they could still be here. There is a strong belief that we need to find out one way or the other."

The official admitted it would be a difficult task to find those missing.

"There's not much of a paper trail in a lot of these cases.

"If all you have is a five-year-old address, and it's a transient neighbourhood where nobody knew him, there is not a whole lot you can do."

Interviews voluntary

The FBI carried out a similar programme to interview Iraqis before the Gulf War in 1991.

This project is more ambitious and better organised, The Washington Post said.

All the interviews are voluntary.

However, some Arab-American rights groups say Iraqis fear they are being singled out by the authorities.

"There's a lot of apprehension and anxiety in the community about these visits," said Mohammed Alomari, spokesman for Focus on American and Arab Interests and Relations (Fair) in Southfield, Michigan.

"Most people are too scared to come out and complain about it. But they will tell you in private that they are very intimidated."

The interview project is separate to the US Justice Department's "special registration" programme, which requires male visitors from 25 mostly Muslim countries, including Iraq, to register with the INS.


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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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