Wide FBI Dragnet Turns Up Leads, but Also Criticism ; Investigators in Post-Attack Probe Have Detained at Least 650. Some Say Investigation Is Overbroad and Lacks Focus

By Chinni, Dante | The Christian Science Monitor, October 15, 2001 | Go to article overview

Wide FBI Dragnet Turns Up Leads, but Also Criticism ; Investigators in Post-Attack Probe Have Detained at Least 650. Some Say Investigation Is Overbroad and Lacks Focus


Chinni, Dante, The Christian Science Monitor


He came to authorities' attention, presumably, because he is a Lebanese who worked at Washington's Dulles International - the same airport where a team of Arab hijackers boarded a Boeing 757 that later crashed into the Pentagon.

He was working for a security company there under a work visa, although it showed him as being employed by a different firm.

That irregularity - and the full court press to round up possible terrorist colleagues in the wake of Sept. 11 - was enough for officials to take him into custody on Sept. 15. With that, the man, who does not want to be named, joined the ranks of 655 people the US government has detained in the course of its post-attack investigation.

Although little is known about the individuals held in detention cells across the country, concern is rising in some quarters - including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) itself - that the sweep may have been overly broad.

Investigators' willingness to "go out there and take in every single person that may have done something wrong" is troubling, says a former senior FBI official. Civil rights violations are not his only concern: Several FBI agents working on the case have told him in the past week that the investigation may lack focus. "They are saying it is much more of a blanket approach than a laser approach," he says.

The tactics in the United States contrast sharply with those abroad. In Europe, only 23 people have been arrested and charged with crimes ranging from being a member of a terrorist organization to document forgery, and there have been no mass detentions. Here, more than 650 have been detained, but little is known about the number of arrests or the reasons for them.

US authorities are, no doubt, under much higher pressure from the media and the public to apprehend would-be terrorists, says Kai Hirschmann, a terrorism expert at the Federal College for Security Studies in Bonn, Germany. "Probably, the US authorities are grabbing anybody they can and then making sure how far they were involved in the events of Sept. 11," he says. "The approach in Europe has been to observe Islamic communities, but not to arrest people unless it's sure they are involved in terrorist activity."

The Department of Justice, meanwhile, is revealing little about its probe. It has declined to say in which cities it has picked up people, why specifically they were detained, or how many have been released. …

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