Fears of witch-hunt as police question Arab men

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The Independent US

Hundreds of young Middle Eastern men in the Detroit area were sent letters yesterday asking them to set up "interviews" with the police to relay any information they may have about terrorism or the terrorist sympathies of friends.

Hundreds of young Middle Eastern men in the Detroit area were sent letters yesterday asking them to set up "interviews" with the police to relay any information they may have about terrorism or the terrorist sympathies of friends.

The interviews, which officials insist are voluntary, mark a new phase in the anti-terrorism investigation, in which more than 1,100 people have been detained but none has been indicted on terror charges.

Civil liberties groups fear the authorities are launching a McCarthy-style witch-hunt against Middle Eastern nationals and Arab Americans.

About 5,000 young men from the Middle East who have entered on temporary visashave been earmarked for interview across the United States. According to a Justice Department memorandum leaked to the Detroit Free Press, they will be asked detailed questions about their movements, their finances, and the names and telephone numbers of everyone they know in the United States.

In Detroit, which has the largest Arab population of any American city, the prosecutor's office decided to set up the interviews by letter to minimise any sense of threat.

"We have no reason to believe that you are, in any way, associated with terrorist activities," states the letter, which was being sent to about 700 people. "Nevertheless, you may know something that could be helpful in our efforts." Interviewees would be asked questions "that could reasonably assist in the efforts to learn about those who support, commit, or associate with persons who commit terrorism".

It is unclear what should be considered "reasonable" questions, or what will happen to people who do not co-operate with the "voluntary" process. People with even minor irregularities in their visa status are likely to stay away because of sweeping new government powers to detain them indefinitely without explanation.

Imad Hamad, of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, said: "Plans to interrogate young Arab men identified solely on the basis of their age, gender and national origin sends the clearest message to both the Arab-American community and to society at large – the government believes that young Arab men are, by definition, suspicious and possibly dangerous."

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