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Arab-Americans Criticize Federal Prosecutions

posted on: Mar 11, 2010

At a meeting in Dearborn today, Arab-Americans slammed federal law enforcement officials for targeting their community, saying a disproportionate number of prosecutions in recent years are aimed at them.

But U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said her office doesn’t target people based on their ethnicity.

“We’re very disturbed by what’s happened,” Suehaila Amen, a community advocate, said at the meeting.

About 80 law enforcement officials — local, state, and federal — attended the meeting at the Lebanese-American Heritage Club. It was part of an ongoing program called BRIDGES — Building Respect in Diverse Communities — which was created in Michigan after the Sept. 11 attacks to foster communication between Arab-Americans and law enforcement.

At the meeting, Arab-Americans cited the recent prosecutions of Muthana Al-Hanooti, a Dearborn man accused of working for the regime of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Tim Attallah, a Detroit attorney accused of helping a motorcycle gang. Both are Arab-American Muslims who were active in their communities. During the two-hour meeting, Al-Hanooti’s son, Suhaib Al-Hanooti, criticized the government’s actions against his father.

Amen said “these are wonderful men who contributed” and were “outstanding citizens.”

Imad Hamad, co-chair of BRIDGES and head of the Michigan office of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said Arab-Americans “can’t help but think who could be next.” Hamad and others also raised concerns about the Oct. 2009 death of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah, a Muslim leader suspected of dealing in stolen goods who was killed during a shootout with FBI agents.

But U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade reassured the crowd that prosecutors only focus on criminal activity.

“Our focus is on activity and not on anyone’s ethnicity,” McQade said.

Andrew Arena, Special Agent in Charge of the
Detroit FBI office, also said their agency doesn’t target people based on religion or ethnicity.

“We focus on individuals involved in criminal activity or threats to national security to the United States, and it doesn’t matter” what their background is, Arena said after the meeting. “Terrorists are from all walks of life, and there are different groups out there.”

The meeting featured Margo Schlanger, the new head of civil rights for the Department of Homeland Security and previously a law professor at the University of Michigan. She said she wants to hear the concerns of the community and will take back what she’s hearing to her colleagues in the department.

Chaldean leaders also were at today’s meeting. Joseph Kassab, director of the Southfield-based Chaldean Federation of America, said that Iraqi refugees need more help in resettling in Michigan. Kassab also raised concerns that some Iraqi Christian immigrants convicted of crimes were being deported back to Iraq during a dangerous time for them.

Niraj Warikoo
Detroit Free Press