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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

State’s Muslims being questioned

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE – So many Idaho Muslims are being questioned by the FBI that the Idaho ACLU is offering a training seminar at a Boise mosque to make sure people know their rights.

“We are concerned that some people in the community are being repeatedly questioned, and we’ve also heard some feedback from some people in the community that they’re kind of tired of it, and want to know what their rights are,” said Marty Durand, an attorney with the Idaho American Civil Liberties Union.

“The people we’ve spoken with want to be cooperative and try to be cooperative, but after, you know, your third or fourth round of questioning, some people are wondering what their rights are, what kinds of questions they have to answer.”

Special Agent Bob Wright, a spokesman for the FBI regional office in Salt Lake City, said the questioning is part of a national anti-terrorism initiative by the FBI’s 56 field offices around the country to increase contacts with Muslim, Sikh and Arab-American leaders in their regions.

“Yes, we are contacting people out in the community to see if they are aware of unusual situations or activities that might be classified as suspicious or out of the ordinary, or something that would be indicative of violations of law,” Wright said. “The September 11 hijackers, the 19 of them, all of them were of Muslim/Arab background. It’s prudent for us to make contacts and associations in that community to see if there might be something that would be indicative of terrorist activity or general criminal activity.”

Wright said he couldn’t say how many people are being questioned in Idaho, but said the FBI is making such contacts daily across the country.

“It’s not just looking for information concerning terrorists. It’s also looking for information concerning hate crimes and other types of things that people in that community may be impacted by,” Wright said. “The way I look at it, it’s a very positive thing.”

In a July 9 press release, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft warned that “credible reporting indicates that al Qaeda is planning a large-scale attack in America in an effort to disrupt our democratic process.” As part of an effort to gain knowledge about any such attack, Ashcroft said, “we are again reaching out to our partners in the Muslim and Arab-American communities for any information they may have.”

Durand said some people have been questioned about such topics as their neighbors’ occupations and how many times a month they attend religious services.

“People should know if law enforcement wants to interrogate them, they have a right to have an attorney present,” Durand said. “Everyone needs to know what their rights are when they’re contacted by the police or detained by the po-lice.”

The ACLU will hold the training session at the Islamic Center of Boise on Tuesday evening at 6:30. It is open to the public.

“The ACLU created the ‘Know Your Rights’ training because we are concerned that many people, especially non-citizens, are not fully aware of their rights when being questioned or detained by the government,” Durand said. “In most situations, people have a right not to answer the questions, but there have been some recent developments in immigration law and such, where that isn’t always clear. People with different immigration statuses may not have that absolute right.”

The organization also has published a “Know Your Rights” pamphlet to answer such questions as:

“ “What if the police or FBI contact me?”

“ “What if the police stop me on the street?”

“ “What if I am not a citizen and the INS contacts me?”

“ “What are my rights at airports?”

The pamphlet is available online in English at www.aclu.org/kyr/kyr_english.pdf. The group is in the process of translating it into Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi.

Moscow Attorney Monica Schurtman, who will be one of three attorneys conducting the training, said: “We’re certainly not in any way trying to interfere with legitimate law enforcement activities. We simply want people to understand what their rights are, and what the consequences could be if they choose not to answer, depending on their immigration status.”

In most cases, U.S. citizens can decline to answer all questions, Schurtman said. But that situation can change with the person’s immigration status, and also can depend on who is asking the questions.

For example, she said, in a standard criminal investigation by local police, even an undocumented alien has the right to decline to answer questions and invoke the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. But when it comes to matters of immigration law, a holder of a non-immigrant visa can face arrest or deportation for refusing to answer questions.

Regardless, she said, “They have the right to ask agents for a reasonable period of time to secure counsel. There’s a right to counsel at all of these interviews.”

Schurtman will be joined by University of Idaho law professor Elizabeth Brandt and Boise immigration attorney Maria Andrade to conduct the training session. Schurtman and Brandt assisted nearly two dozen international students who were questioned by federal agents after the arrest of Sami Al-Hussayen, a UI computer science student who was later acquitted of aiding terrorists by operating Web sites.

Durand said, “None of the advice is meant to stop people from cooperating with proper law enforcement investigations.”

Andrade added, “All too often, individuals who find themselves faced with law enforcement interrogation may not know how to balance their obligation to truthfully answer legitimate questions with their right to safeguard personal privacy.”