Local men who agree to an interview as part of the FBI”s investigation into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks can choose where the interview is conducted and who is present and will not be asked about their immigration status, southeastern Michigan law enforcement officials assured Muslim and Arab community leaders yesterday.

As many as 80 letters have been sent from the FBI to Ann Arbor residents and University students with temporary visas requesting their participation in an interview with the U.S. Department of Justice about terrorism. Government officials addressed concerns about civil liberties and the Ann Arbor Police Department”s role in the interview process yesterday with eight community members and two student leaders.

FBI Special Agent John Bell, John Gershel of the U.S. Attorney”s office of the Eastern District of Michigan, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje and Councilman Steve Hartwell joined AAPD Chief Daniel Oates in the closed-door meeting with Muslim community representatives and students.

Oates said that while the Arabs and Muslims expressed reservations and concerns about the interviews at the meeting, they made clear their support of the U.S. war on terrorism.

“We want to cooperate just like any other American,” said Haaris Ahmad, director for Michigan”s Council for American/Islamic Relations. “But we don”t want violations of the civil rights of innocent human beings.”

In the 90-minute meeting, federal and local law officials reached a consensus on several issues with community members. Oates said that if recipients of the letter choose to participate in an interview, they will have a choice about how their interview will proceed including the venue and whether an attorney, senior member of the Islamic community, translator or police officer will be present.

“Ultimately the federal government said the interviewee decides where this occurs and who is present,” Oates said.

It remains unclear what will happen to anyone who refuses to participate in an interview.

Ahmad, a University alum, said federal officials guaranteed community members that questions would not be asked concerning a person”s immigration status.

Oates said interviews are not limited to federal buildings or homes and can be conducted in mosques if it makes the subject more comfortable.

Arab and Muslim community representatives requested that police be present at the interviews because of their rapport with the Ann Arbor community, Oates said.

“I”m grateful to the Islamic community for placing that kind of trust in my officers,” he said. “Under the circumstances, with the leadership of the Islamic community asking that my people participate, I”m going to have them participate.”

Ahmad said the cooperation of city officials has been critical in resolving community concerns.

“It has made a difference having Oates facilitate the meeting,” he said.

Oates said that although students living on campus do not fall within his jurisdiction, “based on the request by Islamic leadership, if any of students decided to participate the officers will be present.”

The University Department of Public Safety announced last week its officers would not be participating in the interviews.

The letter sent to Middle Eastern men ages 18 to 33 who have entered the United States on student, business or tourist visas since Jan. 2000 asked recipients to respond with their decision by today, but the U.S. attorney”s office yesterday extended the date to Dec. 10 to allow more time for the recipients to seek counsel.

The FBI stresses that those who have received a letter are not suspected of committing terrorist activities and are not under suspicion of criminal activity.

If people are unsure of how to proceed or are seeking council, Arab and Muslim leaders will be offering legal advice by phone and at the Mosque.

“We”re going to try and inform them of their rights,” Ahmad said.

Recipients of the letter seeking advice can call (734) 652-0345 to set up an appointment with Arab and Muslim leaders, lawyers or translators to discuss their options.

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