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FBI interviewing Iraqis who live in U.S.

Opens command centers to monitor terror threats

FBI Director Robert Mueller
FBI Director Robert Mueller

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- FBI Director Robert Mueller Thursday confirmed his agents have begun interviewing Iraqis in the United States as part of the government's "Operation Liberty Shield" program to protect the home front during the war with Iraq.

The bureau also has set up command centers to monitor the latest intelligence about security threats and to be able to react quickly to any new information, officials told CNN Thursday.

Mueller said agents are being sent to interview "a number of Iraqi-born individuals and others in the United States to assure them of the FBI's responsibility to protect them from hate crimes and to elicit information on any potential operations of Iraqi agents or sympathizers."

"While our armed forces are leading the fight overseas, the FBI is ready to defend Americans from retaliatory attacks here at home," he said.

Officials say the FBI is interested in talking to the approximately 11,000 Iraqis living the United States. The bureau insists these interviews will be voluntary and are meant to solicit information that could be helpful during the war.

The interviews have drawn criticism from several Muslim rights groups.

"Knowing that you've done nothing wrong, that you're not connected to terrorism in any way, yet having the FBI come to your place of work, go to your neighbors, do all of these things, it's a very intimidating process," said Ibrahim Hooper of the Council of American Islamic Relations.

The FBI is also expected to detain about three dozen Iraqis in five U.S. cities who have overstayed their visas, are believed to be sympathetic to Saddam Hussein or may have ties to Iraq's Intelligence Service, government sources said.

With the beginning of hostilities in Iraq, the FBI began operating around-the-clock command centers in all of its 56 field offices and in 66 joint terrorism task forces. Each of the 56 field office command centers will report to a newly activated Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC) at FBI headquarters in Washington.

"We are bringing to bear the full weight of our resources, expertise and partnerships," Mueller said. "We are running down every lead, responding to every threat, coordinating with every partner and doing our utmost to keep terrorists from striking back."

Several thousand FBI agents who normally work other beats have been temporarily reassigned to counterterrorism duties.

Nuclear power plants are among the sites the FBI is concerned about, according to Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Kyl said Thursday that a top FBI official told him agents are investigating a threat to a major nuclear power plant located outside Phoenix.

"In a time like this it is not uncommon for information to come to the attention of the FBI that warrants further investigation. I have been assured by the director of counterterrorism that their investigation into the security of Palo Verde is proceeding appropriately and that all necessary precautions are being taken," Kyl said.

The FBI said counterterrorism chief Pat D'Amuro is on Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers on concerns relating to the war.

--CNN Correspondent Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

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