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(photo credit: AP [file])
Leaders of American Muslim and Arab groups urged the FBI on Wednesday to be sensitive when scrutinizing activities by the Hizbullah on US soil.
Twenty-five groups, including the Islamic Society of North America and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, urged FBI Director Robert Mueller in a letter to instruct field offices and agents to avoid unwarranted profiling and to respect legal protections during questioning.
"We want the FBI, obviously, to protect our nation from those who do us harm, but we want them to focus on actual credible evidence of wrongdoing and not target people based on their ethnicity or religion or . . . political expression," said Farhana Khera, head of Muslim Advocates, the lead drafter of the letter.
"We want to avert any kind of raw fishing expedition-type initiative," he said.
Khera, whose group is the charitable arm of the 500-plus-member National Association of Muslim Lawyers, said activists decided to send the letter after learning that the FBI has increased its focus on the worldwide activities of Hizbullah after the group's kidnapping of two IDF soldiers and subsequent Mideast fighting.
On Wednesday, Mueller told reporters that there was now no indication of the group planning an attack in the United States or on US interests abroad.
FBI spokesman Stephen Kodak said the agency planned to reach out to the groups that sent the letter. He said there were no plans to launch large-scale interviews regarding Hezbollah.
"We are sensitive to the cultural differences in dealing with the Muslim community," Kodak said. "Whether or not there's going to be special, additional guidance, that I don't know at this time."
The letter to Mueller noted that since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the FBI had launched a number of interview programs that targeted Arab and Muslim men in particular.
"During these interview efforts, it quickly became apparent that FBI agents were frequently engaging in harassing, unduly burdensome and improper questioning," the letter says.
People reported being asked their views of the Iraq war and President George W. Bush and whether they were practicing Muslims or attended mosques.
Khera stressed that the groups signing the letter did not want to muddy legitimate investigations, but rather wanted to take proactive steps to protect people's civil liberties.
Hizbullah has been designated a terrorist group by the US Department of State. The group has not launched an attack inside the US, but the FBI has pursued investigations into its financing, including cigarette-smuggling cases in Michigan and North Carolina.
Just this month, two men pleaded guilty to racketeering charges related to the indictment of 18 people in a Michigan-based smuggling ring that sent profits to Hizbullah.
Before the Sept. 11 attacks, Hizbullah was responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other terrorist organization, including the 1983 attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 US servicemen.