August 8, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Detroit-area Muslim, Arab American groups seek probe of terror list

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American- Islamic Relations, said it appears the FBI views Dearborn as a threat due to religious affiliation. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)

Dearborn— U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade stood with members of Metro Detroit’s Arab-American and Muslim communities Friday as they asked for a congressional hearing into a report that claims Dearborn is home to the second-largest number of people on a secret government list of suspected terrorists.

McQuade, who heads a Detroit office that prosecutes terrorism, national security and other cases, said no one should assume the report — from the National Counterterrorism Center’s Directorate of Terrorist Identities — is accurate.

“I haven’t seen it, but the numbers don’t really jibe when you talk about major metropolitan communities.... It seems far fetched,” she said in Dearborn.

“We’ve never had an act of terrorism prosecuted out of Dearborn, and over the decades we’ve prosecuted national security cases out of lots of places in the eastern district, and none of those communities shows up on this list. That’s why it would serve us all well to assume this document isn’t accurate.”

“I am very skeptical of its accuracy and of those numbers, to the extent they are numbers,” McQuade said. “It’s very irresponsible to report and rank numbers because of what it does to an entire community.”

Muslim and Arab-American groups asked U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, to file an inquiry with the Justice Department on the “unfair and unwarranted labeling and surveillance.”

“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 as intrinsic threats due to ethnicity and religious affiliation,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan.

McQuade says the report creates a negative perception about the entire community that 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.

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.

Nabih Ayah, chairman of the Arab American Civil Rights League, called the report unfounded, unfair, unjust and fabricated.

“It says there are literally 22,000 individuals in this city that have terrorist ties. ... What this says is that every parent, child, son, daughter, uncle has terrorist ties,” Ayah said. “This is such a hurt to this community ... and we will not stand for it.”

Rachid Elabed, advocacy specialist with the National Network for Arab American Communities, said his organization is disturbed and disappointed in the report and its allegations.

“Our communities feel betrayed. ... We are doctors, lawyers, students, professionals — above all, Americans, and our heritage is not a threat to national security,” Elabed said. “We join to call and demand a congressional inquiry. Our community wants answers, and we want answers now.”

Fatina Abdrabboh, an attorney and director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee-Michigan, called the report an “indictment” and said it puts the community steps back in relation to the ongoing dialogue with government officials.

“History has taught us that when surveillance and profiling is done in a blanket way, it keeps nobody safer. In fact, what it does is marginalize the vast majority of people inclined to participate in their civil and civic duties,” Abdrabboh said.

A message was left with Conyers’ Washington office Friday, but a comment was not immediately available.

The Intercept, an online magazine, posted secret documents from the National Counterterrorism Center’s Directorate of Terrorist Identities showing that as of 2013, 20,800 Americans and non-Americans permanently living in the United States 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.

jchambers@detroitnews.com
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