Somali Muslims Call FBI Outreach 'Coercion'

April 21, 2009

Author: Phillip O'Connor

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Concerns about racial profiling and other questionable tactics used to investigate the possible terrorist recruitment of Somalis living in the United States are prompting some Muslim leaders in St. Louis and elsewhere to limit their cooperation with the FBI.

Across the country, federal agents are intensifying efforts to make connections within the Somali community amid growing concern that some are being radicalized by al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists.

Over the past two years, about two dozen teenagers and young men have disappeared, most from the Minneapolis area, and returned to the Horn of Africa to possibly train with terrorist groups, according to the FBI. In October, one of the men became what is believed to be the first U.S. citizen to carry out a terrorist suicide attack when he blew himself up near Mogadishu killing 30 people.

"We've talked to a lot of people, we've asked them to come forward and we're going to continue to do that," said E.K. Wilson, spokesman for the FBI office in Minneapolis, home to the largest concentration of Somalis in the U.S.

But some critics say that what the FBI calls community outreach at times involves the use of coercion, threats and intimidation.

"The Somali Muslim community in particular feels they are under siege by law enforcement," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic civil rights and advocacy group.

Hooper cited recent instances of Muslims in Minnesota being interrogated by agents on college campuses, worshippers in Michigan being asked to spy in their mosques and the FBI's use of a paid informer to infiltrate mosques in California.

Elsewhere, he said, imams have had their immigration status threatened if they failed to cooperate with investigators.