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Jewish, Arab groups join to fight 'backlash'

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Representatives of a dozen Jewish, Arab and community groups came together Wednesday to speak out against what they see as a surging "racist backlash" against Muslims and Arabs in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States.

"We are here today in solidarity with people of other groups and other faiths in order to say that the bias attacks must stop," said Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid of the Islamic Leadership Council.

The groups held a news conference in Union Square Park, where one of the largest memorials has sprung up to victims of the attacks. Candlelight vigils there have drawn hundreds in the past week.

"As in the turmoil of the Gulf War, we feel an upsurge of anti-Arab racism," said Lorne Lieb of Jews Against the Occupation.

The FBI said this week it has initiated 40 hate crime investigations into alleged murders, assaults and arsons directed at Americans who are Muslim, South Asian and Arab -- crimes which have climbed since the attacks. Osama bin Laden, a radical Islamic Saudi exile who has declared a jihad, or holy war, against the United States and its citizens, is the prime suspect in those attacks.

Islamic groups have said Muslim women who observe hijab -- dressing modestly and covering their hair -- have become targets because of their dress and what is considered an obvious association with the Muslim faith.

"Most of our members are still at home," said Sunita Mehta of the group Sakhi for South Asian Women. "They haven't come out."

Members of the groups that spoke Wednesday also called for heightened awareness and protection of civil liberties.

"You cannot tell a Muslim just by looking at someone," Abdur-Rashid said.

-- CNN Producer Ken Shiffman contributed to this report.

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