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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

FBI meets with local Muslims

Local FBI officials met with the Rio Grande Valley's Islamic community Saturday night to assuage their fears about the agency's investigations into the community and to discuss how the two groups can better work together.

While an FBI official explained the agency's work and how it changed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, local Muslims asked questions about its investigation of Muslims' donations to charities, wiretapping and agents' treatment of Muslim women.

John Johnson, the FBI special agent in charge of the Valley, addressed the crowd of more than 100 at al-Ridwan mosque, 910 Elsham Ave. The meeting followed other informal talks with members of the mosque starting last fall during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"After 9/11, things changed in the U.S., especially for Muslims," said Amin Ibrahim, a member of the mosque's board. "Everybody here in the Valley, we reaffirm our condemnation of such an attack."

During Johnson's nearly 20-minute speech, the FBI agent urged the Islamic community to have better communication with his agency and said the FBI is committed to protecting all Americans from threats to life and civil liberties.

"We are coming to talk to you because we need to find out what the community is about," Johnson said as he discussed the depart-ment's investigations. "This is the first step. ...

"Combating criminals is still the heart and soul of what we do," he said. "But the definition of criminals has broadened (since 9/11). ... The FBI's primary mission became preventing another attack on American soil."

His speech was followed by sunset prayers. Afterward, worshipers submitted anonymous questions on index cards, which a modera-tor then read aloud.

"What does the FBI expect from us?" one card read.

Johnson responded by repeating his call for good communication. He said the agency has to investigate all potential terrorist leads, even those that turn out to be unfounded. Recalling an actual situation, he said the FBI must even follow up on "ridiculous" charges lobbed by someone with a petty grudge against a Muslim man.

"The vast majority don't really have any basis," he said. "All we want is some kind of dialogue." [Link]

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