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Ashcroft meets with Muslim, Arab leaders

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- During an hourlong meeting with Attorney General John Ashcroft on Tuesday, Arab and Muslim leaders expressed deep concern about issues of ethnic profiling and continued detention of potential suspects, the leaders told CNN.

Emerging from the closed-door meeting at the Justice Department, members of the delegation praised Ashcroft for listening carefully to their concerns and promising to act on them.

"It was a very good meeting. He's listening and he's setting a good tone," said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. "We've still got some problems to work through, especially detention and profiling."

"Our concerns were expressed, but it was an excellent meeting," said Abdulwahab Alkebsi, the executive director of the Islamic Institute.

Before officials closed the session to the news media, Ashcroft announced that more than 170 federal investigations into possible hate crimes aimed at the groups have been opened since the September 11 terror attacks.

"Let there be no mistake: The Department of Justice will not tolerate acts of violence or discrimination against people in this country based on their national origin, religion or race," Ashcroft told his visitors.

In addition to top officials of the Civil Rights Division, Ashcroft was joined by the two U.S. attorneys who have so far brought indictments in hate crime cases. Jerry Diskin of Seattle charged a man with damaging a mosque, and Paul Warner of Utah charged a man with targeting a small Middle Eastern restaurant.

Among the delegation members at the Justice meeting was Amardeep S. Bhalla of the Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Task Force. Although Sikhs are neither Arab nor Muslim they have been targeted in several incidents because they wear turbans and are mistaken for Muslims, officials say.

Other members of the delegation were Khaled Saffuri, president of the Islamic Institute; Dr. Zeyad Asali, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; Khalil Jahshan, vice president of the committee; Jean Abi Nader, managing director of the Arab American Institute; and Wright Mahdi Bray of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Zogby said the meeting marked the first such session since Ashcroft took the helm at the Justice Department. He said the Arab and Muslim leaders had met only one time with then-Attorney General Janet Reno during the Clinton presidency.


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