August 8, 2014 at 12:04 pm

U.S. attorney: Dearborn filled with 'great American patriots'

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said Dearborn is filled with 'great American patriots.' (Detroit News file photo)

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said the recent reports about Dearborn being home to the second largest number of people on a secret government list of suspected terrorists have cast a negative perception.

"It is unfortunate that recent reports have suggested a negative perception about an entire community. I can assure the public that Dearborn is filled with great American patriots — U.S. service members, police officers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, business people, laborers and good neighbors,” McQuade said in an email message.

McQuade came to Dearborn Friday morning and stood alongside Arab-American and Muslim-American community leaders, activists, lawyers and others who called for congressional hearings into the report.

McQuade said no one should assume the report is accurate.

“I am very skeptical of its accuracy and of those numbers, to the extent they are numbers. It’s very irresponsible to report and rank numbers because of what it does to an entire community. I have seen and we all understand these watch lists are not perfect,” McQuade said.

The report, McQuade says, “creates a negative perception about this entire community ... It is continuously victimized by fearmongers and hate-baiters who come here and try to besmirch this community, and I’m concerned this report gives them more ammunition.”

“The people of Dearborn, I stand with you. I am here to serve you. I will work with you to protect you,” McQuade said.

The Intercept, an online magazine, posted secret documents from the National Counterterrorism Center’s Directorate of Terrorist Identities showing that as of 2013, there were 20,800 Americans and non-Americans permanently living in the United States who were believed to be known or suspected terrorists.

New York, a city of more than 8.3 million, ranked first among cities with the most “known or suspected” terrorists in the United States, followed by Dearborn — a city of fewer than 100,000 whose population includes one of the largest concentrations of Arab Americans. Next, behind Dearborn, were Houston, San Diego and Chicago.

The FBI, CIA and other government agencies nominate people for inclusion in the database — and it adds about 900 a day, according to the documents. The list is separate from the “no-fly” list that includes 47,000 people, the document said. McQuade said the government was addressing concerns about the no-fly list.

“Efforts are underway to revise the existing redress process regarding the No Fly List," McQuade said.

Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan and members of the Arab-American community in Dearborn are calling for congressional hearings into the secret documents.

Dawud Walid, CAIR’s executive director, is asking U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, to file an inquiry with the Department of Justice regarding the unfair and unwarranted labeling and surveillance of Arab-American and American Muslims who live in Dearborn.

"Considering that no Dearborn resident has engaged in a single act of domestic terrorism nor is there any significant number of convictions of Dearborn residents involved in international terrorism, it appears that the FBI views Arab-Americans in Dearborn and intrinsic threats due to ethnicity and religious affiliation," Walid said Friday.

This week newly obtained government documents suggest that in the government’s eyes, Dearborn is second only to New York among U.S. cities as having the most people suspected of links to terrorism.

The report provides a glimpse into the scope of secretive terror monitoring practices in the United States and the number of people on controversial watch lists. Critics say officials are too willing to accept names for those lists without adequate vetting.

The Detroit FBI has spent significant resources reaching out to members of the Arab American community in Dearborn, holding regular meetings with community leaders. But at times, community leaders have criticized the FBI’s investigative efforts in Dearborn.

Tensions also surfaced publicly in April 2009, when Metro Detroit area Muslims joined other groups around the country in asking Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate complaints the FBI was attempting to spy on mosques by approaching Muslims and asking them to inform on Islamic congregations.

The document did not specify how many people were known or suspected terrorists in each city.

It’s not clear how someone gets on the list. The Associated Press reported the government “does not need evidence that links someone to terrorism in order for the person to be included in the database.”

After a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas 2009, the list expanded dramatically; it has added 430,000 suspected terrorists and deleted 50,000 names, the documents show.

The FBI has spent a significant amount of time in Dearborn since the Sept. 11 attacks, investigating various terror-related allegations and working with the community. Arab-Americans often complain they are unfairly scrutinized by law enforcement.

Walid said evidence shows terrorism is not emanating from Dearborn. And he said the latest disclosure would have a “further chilling effect in our community, where people become worried about going to their mosque or community events.”

The document “in no way jibes with the reality of who is committing terrorism,” he said Wednesday. The document suggests the Obama administration is “targeting the Muslim population in general, but especially Dearborn, which is the most dense population of Arab Americans, as perpetual suspects.”

“Not only is it problematic in labeling an entire community but it should raise questions about how our federal resources are being used,” Walid said.

He said the FBI should “stop focusing on Dearborn and sending FBI agents and informants into our community. It doesn’t make sense.”

Walid said Arab Americans are law abiding and quick to report any suspicious activity.

Nabih Ayad, an attorney and board chairman of the Arab-American Civil Rights League, said he has handled “dozens and dozens” of cases involving residents who were targeted by authorities. No charges, he said, were brought.

Having a suspected terror list like this one is counterintuitive and “plays into the negative stereotypes that (Americans) already have against Arabs,” Ayad said. “It plays against the Arab men and women of this community who work hard everyday and are good citizens.”

The city of Dearborn declined to comment on the report. “It’s a leaked document so we really can’t comment,” said spokeswoman Mary Laundroche.