Ahead of tonight’s debate in Tempe, FBI agents have been questioning hundreds of Muslims across the state and visiting mosques in what they say is a new intiative to thwart terrorist attacks. We speak with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Arizona and a University student from Yemen who was questioned. [includes rush transcript]
President Bush and Senator John Kerry meet today in Arizona for the third and final presidential debate of the campaign. The encounter, which is being held at Arizona State University, will focus on domestic issues including jobs, health care and taxes.
In the weeks leading up to the final debate, FBI agents have been knocking on doors of hundreds of Muslims in the key swing state of Arizona and conducting so-called "voluntary interviews" as well as revisiting mosques in what they say is new initiative to thwart terrorist attacks.
The FBI plan–officially known as the "Fall Threat Task Force" but dubbed by critics as the "October Plan"–is not just confined to Arizona. With just a few weeks left to go before the election, "interviews" of individuals in Arab and Muslim communities is taking place all across the country and there is a growing concern that the new government plan could silence political expression in Muslim communities before the presidential election.
- Deedra Abboud, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Arizona.
- Yaser Alamoodi, subject of a "voluntary interview" by the FBI recently. He is a 27 year-old immigrant from Yemen who grew up in Saudi Arabia and came to the U.S. for university seven years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Deedra Abboud, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Arizona. Can you tell us more? Who is being interviewed?
DEEDRA ABBOUD: Pretty much everybody that’s Muslim. It started out, I mean, we have had waves over the years since September 11. We recognize a wave [inaudible] getting one or two people report that they’re being interviewed. We get ten a day. They started out mainly when we were going to war in Iraq or getting ready, they sent out that we were going to interview all of the Iraqis. When things happened internationally, we start seeing them focus on a particular country. We get a lot of people from Pakistan coming in at one time and say, you know, we’re being questioned, or Somalia or Sudan. This summer it somewhat intensified on different levels. One of those levels was converts were included. Anyone who was a convert. Anyone who had ever traveled to certain countries started being questioned. And not only were they questioned, but they were also told — there were some of them that were told — we’re not — we don’t think that you’re doing anything wrong, but we think maybe some of your friends are not necessarily good people, and that following saying a list of ten people asking if you knew them, knowing they’re your friend and they were at your house for dinner just last week.
AMY GOODMAN: Deedra, I wanted to bring in Yaser Alamoodi, who just was visited by the F.B.I. 27 years old, an immigrant from Yemen, grew up in Saudi Arabia, came to the U.S. for university study seven years ago. When did this happen, Yaser, and what were you asked? Who came to your door?
YASER ALAMOODI: Particularly sometime in July it was about 9:00 P.M. at night. This was on a normal weekday, and he just showed up at my house unexpectedly, unannounced just saying that he was an F.B.I. agent, and he needed to have a chat with me about just certain questions that he had. When I asked him what kind of — why me of all people, he said that my name showed up on some sort of a list that his agency maintains. He said he works for the U.S. Joint Task Force on Terrorism. So, I [inaudible] and we sat down, and he kept asking a lot of questions about whether I knew anybody who just came back from Pakistan or anybody who showed interest in a government building or anybody who wishes to do some harm on American soil. And it was just basically very general questions, very vague, very ambiguous.
AMY GOODMAN: Deedra Abboud, do you think this is meant to suppress voting in the Muslim community, just overall generating a kind of fear?
DEEDRA ABBOUD: I surely hope not, and I’m doing everything that I can here, as CAIR is nationally, to try to encourage Muslims not to allow that. Unfortunately, Muslims, they do have somewhat of an immigrant population, but it’s not just immigrants. Even converts are very hesitant to speak out. They’re so paranoid of being part of lists. And since they don’t know the origin of lists or how they get on lists, they’re concerned about everything. They’re thinking if they register to vote, they’re on a list. And if they go vote, that — some of the questions are how do you feel about the president of the United States? That indicates that there’s a wrong answer. So that’s making people think, "Well, so if I go vote and I vote against President Bush, is that going to get me on a list?" And I’m trying to assure them that they know you voted, but they’re not supposed to know who you voted for.
AMY GOODMAN: Deedra Abboud, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Arizona, also Yaser Alaboodi, one of those who was visited. Are people being locked up, Deedra?
DEEDRA ABBOUD: We haven’t had really reports here in Arizona about people being locked up. However, when the B.C.I.S. sent out their little memo saying that they’re going to arrest a lot of people who have immigration violations that also have some kind of a criminal activity, be it minor, they’re going to pick these up, you know, to help with terrorism, and immediately here in Arizona, we had two Pakistani sisters who had no criminal record, who from what we could tell, were not even out of status, but if they were, it was just a few days. And they were in the process of and had paperwork from B.C.I.S. showing that they were in the process of getting waivers. And they were picked up and taken to jail and had to have a bond. Still don’t know what their status is, still have never seen an attorney. And they’re like 21 and 23.
AMY GOODMAN: Deedra Abboud, we have to leave it there but it’s a story that we continue to follow. Deedra Abboud, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Yaser Alaboodi, one of those who has been visited by the federal authorities. I want to thank you both for being with us.