Yemeni Americans watched by FBI [Archives:2004/729/Community]

April 15 2004

By Shaker Al-Ashwal
YT New York Correspondent

According to Najeeb al-Haidary, a Yemeni American from Michigan, the FBI is active in collecting information about the community. “If you are an Arab, or a Muslim, you do not have to commit a crime or even be suspected of planning one for them to be interested in you.” al-Haidary said.
“To achieve this aim, the FBI has been using intimidation and threats of imprisonment.” he added.
Al-Haidary, who was arrested for inciting violence in a protest in Michigan, was also charged with possessing Qat, a punishable charge according to the U.S. law.
Although it is a common practice for the FBI and law enforcement agencies to pressure criminals to give information that leads to the arrest and indictment of larger criminal networks, it is alarming to discover that the FBI is seeking information on everyone in the community.
Al-Haidary stresses that is not alone. He says that there are at least ten other Yemenis that he knows of who work for the FBI and report on the community in Michigan. The Yemeni community in Buffalo, New York City and other localities must also have agents who are snooping on every Yemeni who is atypical in anyway.
In the summer of 2002, the arrest of sixteen Yemeni-Americans in New York City revealed that Ali Al-Fatmy had been recruited by the FBI to provide and record Yemeni-Americans who later were charged with money laundering. Those who were indicted like Mr. A. and Mr. S. said that they heard his voice on the tapes used in their trial. According to Mr. S., the wiretaps by Al-Fatmy carried recordings of voices and activities in Al-Farouq mosque in Brooklyn. Mr. Al-Fatmy was recruited by the FBI after he was arrested and charged with money laundering; the charges were later dropped as part of a deal struck with the prosecutor and the FBI. Since then he has disappeared, and is believed to be in the witness protection program.
Most Yemeni-Americans today understand that their mosques are under surveillance, and their movements, voices, travels, and businesses are being closely watched. Neighbors are encouraged to report to authorities on any “suspicious” activity. The Muslim community understands the apprehension and the need for better security, but they also think that level of security has come at the cost of our liberties, and constitutional protections. “The terrorists can declare a win, if the U.S. becomes a State of fear in which our liberties and rights are violated. The terrorists win if the FBI excesses become the norm, our liberties get discounted and our community continues to live under suspicion, carrying the guilt and indictment for a horrific crime our community had nothing to do with.” said one of the American Yemenis residing in New York City.
The database containing information on Arabs and Muslims in America exists today, but the question on their mind is “what does it contains?” Until Al-Haidary revealed his involvement, it was believed that the database had names of only suspicious individuals, places, and activities i.e. money transfers. Al-Haidary reveals a disturbing reality reminiscent of FBI activities against Puerto Rican activists during decades of surveillance.
Decades of surveillance of Puerto Rican activists have resulted in the compilation of at least 1.8 million pages on the group by the FBI. Among the millions of pages found there were 100 pages on the activities of a young man from the mountain town of Lares named Ramon Bosque Perez who had protested against the war in Vietnam and advocated Puerto Rican independence. Mr. Perez was only a high school student back then, and the FBI found his activities relevant enough for the agency to open a file for him.
The FBI's records on Puerto Rican activists came out recently as a result of an inquiry by U.S. Representative Jose Serrano, D-NY, when he asked then-FBI Director Louis Freeh to confirm the rumors of their existence. Freeh confirmed the presence of the records and now thousands of pages have made it into the Congressman's office. Freeh acknowledged that the program “did tremendous destruction to many people, to the country, and certainly to the FBI”. Loren Shaver, the official in charge of releasing the documents, defended the program and justified the FBI action stating that the files are “cold war investigation files”. She added that, “there were bombs going off and there were people dying. The FBI investigation of them isn't unusual by any means for that period”.
Analysts believe that the FBI will do whatever it wants or has to do, and 40 years later an FBI director will appear before a congressional committee to apologize about the FBI's actions and again say that it was justified considering the atmosphere at the time. Only then will the world know the extent of the surveillance and the excesses of the FBI in this war against terror, privacy and personal liberties.
It is expected that the latest revelation will create great mistrust in communities as the members of our community become aware of the presence of a growing number of informants in its midst. Surveys in the USA revealed that even when no one is guilty of anything, people are not comfortable knowing that they are being watched and that their meetings, associations, businesses and lives are scrutinized to degrees correlated to their standing and activities in their communities. Coercing people into becoming informants and using intimidation and threats of imprisonment to recruit people will not give the FBI the reliable informants who are needed to give them the information they need to protect the country.
Arab and Muslim Americans have come to a conclusion that in this day and age, where peace groups and environmental groups are under the same scrutiny, it is crucial to remind ourselves of the importance of preserving our rights and liberties. Regular American citizens, on the other hand, have been urged by Arab and Muslim Americans to rise and question the flow of laws that give law enforcement agencies unchecked authority to conduct intrusive, unreasonable searches, which are seen as a clear violation of their constitutional rights.
It even goes to a further extent for some Arab and Muslim Americans, who feel that these days living in America for them is no different from living under the draconian regimes of the countries they left. They believe that the fear and paranoia they left behind are revisiting them again in the land of liberty and justice for all.