Middle Eastern Visitors In Ohio To Be Questioned

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - About 100 foreign visitors in Ohio will be interviewed as part of a federal terrorism probe, Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor said.

O'Connor, who also directs Ohio's newly created Interagency Task Force on Ohio Security, said Wednesday that local police will be the lead interviewers of the foreigners, mostly young Middle Eastern men.

Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Justice wants to interview as many as 5,000 foreign visitors from countries with terrorism ties. Lawyers and interpreters will be allowed to sit in, but civil libertarians are questioning the approach.

"That really is the grossest type of racial profiling," said Jillian Davis, staff counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

"These young men are being picked just because they are visitors and, really, nothing more. There's no reason to believe they know anything. It's just because they're from various Middle Eastern countries."

FBI officials said several dozen people in northern Ohio and fewer than 40 in southern Ohio would be interviewed. They declined to be more specific.

"The interviews have been divvied up over the next few weeks," said Fred Alverson, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Columbus.

All interviews are voluntary, he said, and will not be intrusive. For example, people will not be asked their religious preferences, Alverson said.

About 15,000 Arab-Americans live in the Toledo area. David Bauer, head of the U.S. attorney's office in Toledo, would not say how many area men will be questioned.

Arab-American groups were upset with the interviews.

"It's a step in the wrong direction," said Ammar Alo, president of the Muslim Student Association at the University of Toledo. "It's a step backwards."

At least two police departments nationally have refused the Justice Department's request. On Wednesday, Corvallis, Ore., police joined their Portland counterparts in refusing to interview foreign visitors in Oregon as part of the probe.

Corvallis Police Chief Pam Roskowski believes the city will be better served if officers concentrate on criminal investigations rather than interviewing people on the federal list who are not criminal suspects, according to a police statement released Wednesday.

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)