Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Anti-Terrorism Order Worries Muslims

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Anti-Terrorism Order Worries Muslims

Article excerpt

Samih Jaber and Mohammed Barakat aren't talking about what happened to them in an Israeli jail last month.

The two Chicago businessmen are scared to talk to the press, according to Muslims in Chicago, who also worry that the arrest of the two prominent and wealthy Chicago businessmen is part of a new crackdown on Muslims.

The U.S. government's naming of several prominent Muslims as coconspirators in a terrorist bombing case and the recent presidential order and counterterrorist legislation sought by the Clinton administration have raised anxiety in the Muslim community. The arrests and tactics used by the government to monitor Muslims also have increased the tension between the Jewish and Muslim communities in the United States.

The arrests of Jaber and Barakat -- they were subsequently released -- came less than three weeks after President Clinton issued an executive order freezing the assets of 12 Neddle Eastern groups opposed to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and ordering the FBI to coordinate investigations of their U.S. supporters.

The day after Israel jailed Jaber and Barakat, the administration sent Congress the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995, which establishes fines and prison terms for providing support to any organization the president designates as "terrorist." The act would also set up a special court to deport 'terrorist' aliens without letting them see classified evidence against them. Both the order and legislation would allow the FBI to conduct previously forbidden investigations of political activity, according to an American Civil Liberties Union analysis.

Jaber and Barakat are prominent members of the Chicago Arab community. Jaber, 44, a grocer and real-estate broker, is president of the Arab-American Chamber of Commerce of Chicago and a Republican Party insider, according to the Chicago Tribune. Barakat, 36, is Jaber's cousin and owns an ice-cream parlor. Both are wealthy men and U.S. citizens of many years standing, according to Ghassan Barakat, editor of the Al-Bostaan newspaper in Chicago, who knows both men. He is not related to Mohammed Barakat.

Ghassan Barakat and others in Chicago who spoke with the two, say that when Jaber and Mohammed Barakat flew to visit their families in East Jerusalem they declared the money they were carrying: Jaber had $19,700 he said was to pay for an addition to his mother's house and an uncashed check for $89,475; Barakat had a total of $65,000, reportedly to invest in a strip mall. When they landed in Tel Aviv on Feb. 9, Israeli officials arrested them.

According to published reports, after holding them incommunicado for four days, Israeli intelligence agents told a judge they were suspected of delivering funds from a radical sheik in Chicago to Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group that has staged devastating bombings against Israelis.

The judge first released Jaber and two days later, Barakat, without any charges.

Their release followed an inquiry from Illinois Sen. Paul Simon. Another Chicago-area Palestinian, Sulieman Odeh, a longtime legal immigrant who was arrested at the same time as Jaber and Barakat, remains in Israeli custody.

News reports from Israel said intelligence officials there received a tip that Barakat was bringing money to Islamic Jihad. Rafeeq Jaber told NCR that the arrested men were known to be supporters of the peace process and of Patestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat's faction, Al Fatah. Speaking by telephone during the monthlong fast of Ramadan, Jaber said far fewer people were worshipimg at the Bridgeview mosque this year than last. "They are afraid, especially with the arrests."

John Boris of Simon's staff said, "You can't necessarily draw a connection between" the arrests and the executive order. But Salam Marayati, director of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council, said, "Everybody is telling us that fundraising has declined. …

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