Thursday, December 30, 2004

Muslims claim unfair treatment at border

Who should they profile--Methodists?

Associated Press Writer

December 29, 2004, 6:27 PM EST

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- An Islamic civil rights group Wednesday accused U.S. border agents of religious profiling after dozens of American Muslims were searched, fingerprinted and photographed while returning from a religious conference in Toronto.

Some of those stopped said they were held at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge for six hours or more with no explanation.

A spokeswoman for Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection said agents stopped anyone who said they attended the three-day convention, titled "Reviving the Islamic Spirit," based on information that such gatherings can be a means for terrorists to promote their cause.

"I asked `If I refuse to give my fingerprints, what will you do?"' said Galeb Rizek, 32, who claimed he arrived at the border around midnight and was held until 6:30 a.m. "(The agent) said, `You can refuse, but you'll be here until you do."'

Rizek, whose family owns a hotel in Niagara Falls, said he is a frequent traveler across the border and has never before been fingerprinted or photographed. He described one woman, traveling with her young daughter, who protested and sobbed through the fingerprinting. The little girl cried as well.

"It was kind of dramatic. You really feel like a criminal and you haven't done anything wrong," said Rizek, who was born in the United States.

"The image of a room full of American Muslim citizens apparently being held solely because of their faith and the fact that they attended an Islamic conference is one that should be disturbing to all Americans who value religious freedom," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The group demanded an investigation by Homeland Security officials.

CBP spokeswoman Kristie Clemens said 34 people were stopped at the Lewiston crossing and four others were checked at the nearby Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. They were held for an average of 2 1/2 hours and offered coffee and tea, she said.

Clemens acknowledged the inconvenience over the additional security measures, but said with the threat of terrorism, there was no room for error.

"We have ongoing credible information that conferences such as the one that these 34 individuals just left in Toronto may be used by terrorist organizations to promote terrorist activities, which includes traveling and fund raising," Clemens said. "As the front-line border agency, it is our duty to verify the identity of individuals _ including U.S. citizens _ and one way of doing that is fingerprinting."

Mo Rizek, 19, said frustration among those held for several hours boiled over to anger.

"Everyone was yelling," he said. "Some people had a 10-hour drive back to Connecticut in front of them, people had to go to work in the morning ... Every single person there was a U.S. citizen."

He said one of the messages of the convention was how to change for the better the way people feel about Muslims post-Sept. 11.


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