MINNEAPOLIS -- As the FBI pursues one alleged terrorist plot after another, Muslim Americans are grappling with a widespread sense that the government thinks they all could be terrorists.
In dozens of interviews across the country, McClatchy has found that the government's search for the enemy within is threatening to divide and destroy America's Muslim communities.
"It's not a guilty complex; it's the stigma of being a Muslim and constantly having to defend religion," said Edina Lekovic, the communications director for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "It causes people to give up and say, 'Why should I bother? No one likes me. Why should I keep trying?' "
Americans of all faiths support the government's efforts to keep them safe, but the war on terrorism looks different to those who find themselves under constant scrutiny because of their religion, ethnicity or both.
Many American Muslims say the government's hunt for hidden enemies has tainted their mosques, charities and community centers by making them a front line in the war on terrorism. Many think that their mosques are filled with FBI informants because the government is treating their community more as suspect than as citizen and presumes Muslims guilty rather than innocent.
A recent poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that more than half of those surveyed thought that American Muslims face widespread discrimination, more than any group other than gays and lesbians. Thirty-six percent of those polled thought that Islam encourages violence more than other faiths do.
"The American government detains people without trial," said Mohammed Amin, the owner of a small grocery store, who's convinced that the FBI is tracking his every move. "The American government tortures. I'm not making this up, and it all seems to be happening to people named Mohammed. My name is Mohammed, and I'm scared."
Amin's story echoes across the country. Abdi Samatar, a respected geography professor at the University of Minnesota, can't travel without being interrogated for hours at the airport. A Muslim student at Michigan State University who approached the FBI to build bridges to the Muslim community was asked to spy on the Muslim Student Association. An unemployed Somali electrician has grown so tired of federal investigators and airport personnel treating him like a criminal that he's considering leaving the country that once gave him refuge.
Federal investigators question people in the streets and at the mosques, and park their vehicles nearby to listen to Friday sermons. Others stop at school bus stops and apartment complexes, residents said. As the distrust has grown, they've coined a nickname -- Fadumo Bashir Ismail -- for the FBI.
"You have a community lodged between two powerful forces," said Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who's the first Muslim in Congress. "People are luring their sons back to Somalia to fight some war and the government is scrutinizing them, watching them."
In September, the FBI questioned two women because of their charity work for the poor in Somalia, the women said. One, Amran Shire, was approached at her children's school bus stop just outside Rochester, Minn. Another, Amina Ali, said that when she asked for an attorney, she was asked whether she believed in "Allah" or a lawyer.
Paranoia is acute among Minnesota's more than 70,000 Somalis. They fear that they'll be targeted for wiring money to family members, and many are convinced that they're on the Transportation Security Administration's no-fly list solely because of their ethnicity and religion.
Abdullahi Farah, 29, the youth coordinator for the Abu Bakr as Siddique mosque in Minneapolis, planned to take his wife on the holy pilgrimage to Mecca last year. When he presented his tickets, however, airport personnel told him he couldn't fly. He remains on the no-fly list.
"No one has really come out and told me I'm suspected of something," he said. "We believe everything that happens comes from the Qadr Allah," Arabic for "the decree of God."
People eye one another suspiciously, worried that the coffee shops, mosques and community centers they frequent are filled with informants. Whispers are rampant: "You know he's an informant."
"The FBI are like cockroaches: You turn on the lights and they scatter," said Aman Obsiye, 26, a Somali American activist and student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "They reach out to people who say, 'These people are terrorists.' They select whom they want from the community."
"We're not profiling Somali Americans," said Agent E.K. Wilson, a spokesman for the FBI in Minneapolis. "We need them. We need to work with them."
The fact that three young men recently returned from Somalia and pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges alleviated the pressure only temporarily, however. Investigators say the charges were the first in a much larger investigation.
Some 20 young Somali men from the Twin Cities started to go missing in 2007 after Ethiopia invaded Somalia. After reports surfaced of rapes and massacres in southern Somalia, the boys are thought to have left to fight what they considered a foreign occupation. They became prey for al Shabab, which means "young men" in Arabic, a Somali group that recently professed allegiance to al Qaida and was added to the U.S. list of terrorist organizations last year.
One former resident, Shirwa Ahmed, is thought to have become the first American suicide bomber. He drove a truck filled with explosives into a government compound in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. A teenage boy from Seattle is suspected of being one of the bombers in a recent attack on a U.N. compound. Others have died in the streets of Mogadishu.
Some Muslim Americans question the propriety of the investigations that uncovered other alleged terrorist activity.
In the last month, the FBI has said it foiled at least three suspected plots.
In one, a police informant, Ahmad Afzali, who'd been a trusted New York police source, was arrested on charges of lying to federal agents. The man he was asked to gather information on, Najibullah Zazi, is accused of trying to attack New York's mass transit system. Zazi has pleaded not guilty.
In two other cases, the FBI gave fake explosives to an American Muslim who it said intended to blow up an Illinois courthouse and to a Jordanian teen who the agency said planned to detonate them under a Dallas courthouse.
Earlier this year, a young Afghan-American, Ahmadullah Sais, was charged with fraud on his naturalization application after he reported that a man, Craig Monteilh, had talked about terrorism at the mosque he attended in Irvine, Calif. Sais claims that the authorities pursued him after he refused to work as an FBI informant. Monteilh, an ex-convict, has since publicly admitted that he himself was an FBI informant.
"There is a fine line between informant and entrapment," said Edina Lekovic of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "Show us the guidelines these informants should operate under. Where is our privacy if I don't even have my privacy in my mosque?"
Despite it all, attendance at the Abu Bakr as Siddique mosque has grown, and its community center is expanding.
"True faith comes when you're tested," youth coordinator Farah said. "I don't apologize for being Muslim."
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