FBI EYES HIZBOLLAH IN US AS TENSIONS WITH IRAN
By Caroline Drees, Security Correspondent Tue Jul 18, 5:07 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The
FBI is trying to ferret out possible Hizbollah agents
in the United States amid concerns that rising U.S.-Iranian tensions could trigger attacks on American soil, FBI officials
Relations between Washington
and Tehran, which soured after the 1979 Islamic revolution, have deteriorated further recently over Iran's nuclear program and its support for Hizbollah, the militant Islamic
group whose capture of two Israeli soldiers last week prompted Israel
to launch retaliatory strikes in Lebanon.
American law enforcement
officials are concerned the Lebanon-based Hizbollah, which has so far focused on fund-raising and other support activities
inside the United States, could turn to violence in solidarity with Iran.
"If the situation escalates,
will Hizbollah take the gloves off, so to speak, and attack here in the United States,
which they've been reluctant to do until now?" said William Kowalski, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI in Detroit.
Detroit is home to one of the largest Muslim communities in the United States.
"Because of the heightened
difficulties surrounding U.S.-Iranian relations, the FBI has increased its focus on Hizbollah," said FBI spokesman Paul Bresson
"Those investigations relate
particularly to the potential presence of Hizbollah members on U.S.
There is no specific or
credible intelligence pointing to an imminent U.S. attack by Hizbollah,
which the United States considers a terrorist
group, Bresson added.
But Iran's Hizbollah -- which claims links to the Lebanese group -- said on Tuesday it stood ready
to attack U.S. and Israeli interests worldwide.
FBI Director Robert Mueller
told reporters in Toronto that agents were keeping a close
eye on Hizbollah, especially "when the international situation heats up."
AMERICAN MUSLIMS WORRY
Muslim American groups worry
that fear of Hizbollah violence in the United States
could again cast an unwelcome spotlight on their community, which has often felt a target of surveillance or discrimination
since the September 11 attacks.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman
for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington,
said his advocacy group fielded almost daily complaints from Muslims who felt singled out or intimidated by government officials.
Muslim American groups say
that while they support fighting against terrorism, they are concerned the focus is unfairly on them.
"There are individual concerns
that the government does interviews with individuals, with kind of subtle threats that they could be arrested or deported
if they don't cooperate. That is really the concern for a lot of these groups right now," said Salam al-Marayati, head of
the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council.
"That fact in itself will
alienate, frustrate and perhaps even push these young people further to the margins, which creates a very problematic situation
for all of us," he said. "In a way, this is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Marayati, who consults regularly
with government officials, said they were listening to his concerns, but should do more to show Americans that their Muslim
compatriots are just as determined as they are to fight terrorism.
"Since the relationship
is not publicized, people think we're not contributing and Muslims continue to be seen as a problem in our society as opposed
to part of the solution," he said.
(Additional reporting by
Lynne Olver in Toronto)