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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

FBI flooded with tips after release of photos

FBI agents are working through tons of tips they received after releasing a photo of two men who they say were acting suspiciously aboard Washington state ferries.

Publicizing the photo of men who haven't been accused of a crime was an unusual move by the FBI. Officials with the Bureau say they just want to talk to the two men.

The State Patrol says investigators started by showing the pictures to ferry workers, Then they showed them at a fire and police training exercise.

With no new leads, they decided to get all the ferry riders involved by publicizing the photos and asking, "do you know who these men are?"

Onboard the ferries, there's mixed reaction.

When the Bainbridge ferry pulls away from the dock, the cameras come out.

There's the family from London, "seeing the lovely views and trying to get the daily life of Seattle." The man who used to live here snaps photos and says, "It's just a chance to have something to remember things by."

And scores of other tourists and travelers.

But in the last month, there were also the two men in the FBI photos. The FBI won't say if two were taking pictures - just that the two were unusually interested in the size of the boats, how they work, and the docking procedures.

They were spotted on different ferry runs on different days over a period of four to six weeks.

The men appear to be of middle eastern decent, and the FBI admits there is profiling here -- but they insist it's not racial profiling.

"We're looking at the behavior," said FBI spokeswoman Robbie Burroughs. "If you'd like to say we're profiling particular behavior, I'd be comfortable with that. Because this is behavior people felt uncomfortable with.

"And this is what we're asking people to do. To be on the lookout for things they feel are unusual or suspicious."

Ferry rider Kersas Dastur was taking pictures on board and says he sometimes gets second looks from people.

"I gotta be honest, 50 percent of the people look suspicious," he said. "People think I look suspicious. I'm in the US military. I'm not suspicious."

The release of the photo has angered many in the Muslim community.

"These men look like Arabs," said Aziz Junejo. "What most people would personify as a so-called terrorist and the fear that our government is putting into people right now."

The FBI insists that it's not trying to scare anyone and that they just want to talk to the two men and move on, and Aziz and Bureau officials agree that federal agents have developed an excellent relationship with the Muslim community.

But, as far as we know, agents never took the photos directly to anyone in the Muslim community to ask for help. [Link]

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