FBI Raids Immigrants' Stores
FBI Raids Immigrants' Stores
DAVID B. CARUSO
Jul. 09, 2002
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Customers usually enter Tariq Hussain's jewelry store browsing for diamonds or gold rings. Recently, he was visited by people looking for something much more sinister.
Hussain's Intrigue Jewelers kiosk in suburban Pittsburgh was one of several across the nation searched by FBI agents hunting for ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network.
``They took everything, my paperwork, bills, my computer, my checks,'' said Hussain, 27, a recently discharged U.S. Army mechanic. ``I told them, 'I don't have any links to anything like that.'''
About 75 stores have been searched by investigators hoping to discover financial backing for terrorist groups, said a law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The raids have taken place in several cities over the past two weeks, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and New York. Dozens of foreigners, mostly from Pakistan, have been detained or questioned.
The shop owners have been asked about their accounting practices and whether they send money to any foreign organizations on a regular basis. They also are asked whether they support al-Qaida or know anyone who does, officials said.
Immigration attorney Neil Rambana, who is representing three Pakistani men and a woman from Nepal arrested in a raid at the Governor's Square mall in Tallahassee, Fla., said the FBI and INS were on a ``fishing expedition.''
``There is no proof and no one has presented any evidence that would put these people under suspicion,'' Rambana said. ``This was all about abusing people's rights in the hopes that there were a few guilty people among them.''
The Immigration and Naturalization Service declined to comment on the raids, other than to acknowledge they had taken place. A U.S. official said more than a dozen people are still in detention following the raids.
Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said immediately after the raids that federal agencies were ``looking at illegal immigrants working at kiosks,'' but he refused to elaborate.
The largest raids took place between June 28 and July 2. Agents swept jewelry stores in Pennsylvania, Florida, California, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina. Since then, smaller raids have taken place in Texas, California and Massachusetts, officials said.
Most of the raids involved Intrigue Jewelers franchises, which are licensed through Gold Concept Inc., a Florida company owned by Orlando businessman Arif Rajan.
Rajan's attorney, Phillip Calandrino, said neither the company nor its owner have terrorist ties.
He said Rajan, a native of Pakistan and a U.S. citizen since 1991, has been cooperating with the FBI for several months and has voluntarily turned over company records to investigators.
``He is just like any small businessman that you might run into. He didn't do anything wrong,'' Calandrino said.
Calandrino said Gold Concept leases space for its franchisees, but doesn't supply jewelry and doesn't control the day-to-day operations of the businesses.
``They hire who they want. They do what they want, like any independent business,'' he said.
The company first came into contact with FBI investigators in September, Calandrino said, when an Intrigue Jewelers employee in Whitehall, Pa., came under suspicion for having spent hours photographing the World Trade Center days before it was destroyed.
Ashar Iqubal Butt, a Pakistani citizen, pleaded guilty in June to entering the country with an altered British passport and agreed to be deported. A judge delayed his sentencing until September to give agents more time to investigate Butt's 25 World Trade Center photographs, which he had developed the week of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Butt's lawyer has said the photographs were taken innocently and that Butt had come to the United States to work.
The raids have sparked outrage among some members of Muslim communities.
``These people are being confronted and in some cases terrorized based on no evidence,'' said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. ``And even when the FBI says there is evidence, it is never anything anyone else is allowed to see.''
Associated Press Writer Christopher Newton in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
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