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U.S. ARAB LEADERS WARN AGAINST 'MANIPULATING' CRISIS TO AID ISRAEL

Eight million Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans are grappling with a number of dilemmas in the wake of last week's attacks by extremists.

As their leaders pleaded at a news conference Tuesday for understanding and tolerance, the same leaders indirectly warned Israel and its friends against "manipulating" the crisis to Israel's advantage.

"We must not allow any country or group to manipulate this terrible tragedy to further its own narrow self-interest, while we are all bleeding and mourning," said a statement issued jointly by seven U.S. Islamic groups.

Leaders of the American Muslim Council and the Islamic Institute declined to say whether they were referring to Israel and Jewish Americans, when reporters questioned them about the comment.

But Raeed N. Tageh, who took part in the news conference, said there is a "direct correlation between U.S. support of Israel and antagonism against this country in the Arab world." Tageh, a research fellow with the United Association for Studies and Research (on media), said American political, military and financial support for Israel has "generated a great deal of anger" toward the United States.

Tageh said that if the United States wants to change the political environment in the Middle East, it will have to revisit its policies on Israel.

None of the other participants contradicted him.

And while the leaders reiterated their indignation over the hijacking of the four jets by suicide terrorists, the groups voiced their solidarity with legitimate Arab and Muslim nations abroad.

In addition, they said they were grateful to President Bush and Attorney General John D. Ashcroft for upholding the civil rights of Arabs, Muslims and southern Asians. But they also denounced what they charged were police-state harassment tactics employed by some agents of the FBI, which Ashcroft supervises.

The Muslim leaders charged that FBI agents have harassed individuals and clergy at worship, entering mosques uninvited, taking down license plate numbers of worshipers and menacing innocent Muslim Americans at their homes.

The leaders provided no details.

A spokesman at FBI headquarters, who would identify himself only as "Dave," said, "We have no comment on that." Muslims said they agreed with Bush's demand that the terrorists be hunted down, but they voiced fury over vigilante attacks on Muslim institutions and individuals.

In Denton, Texas, a mosque was destroyed Thursday in an apparent firebombing. In Dallas, police are investigating whether the shooting death of a Pakistani shoe clerk was a hate crime.

Yasser Bushraq, an attorney who heads a Muslim civil rights organization called Solidarity U.S., said Muslims should take action to "protect the civil rights of our community."

"No one has an obligation to cooperate with the authorities, including the FBI," Bushraq said. "Americans have the right not to speak to the FBI. There is no reason for any individual (in our community) to feel any guilt."

A Jewish civil rights lawyer who is defending a man suspected of links with terrorist organizations was invited to take part in the news conference. Stanley Cohen said: "The FBI has no right to require anyone to talk with them at any time. If they want to bring charges, let them make an arrest." Cohen represents Moataz Al Hallak of Arlington, Texas, who is under investigation for allegedly being an intermediary for Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

At the same time, the organizations said they want to "make it absolutely clear that we join all other Americans in our condemnation of the attacks as un-Islamic, barbaric and inhumane."

But they urged the United States to make sure it has the right target of attack "beyond reasonable doubt" and to issue a public deadline before making military strikes.

Tageh urged the media to refrain from using terms such as "Muslim radical" and "Islamic fundamentalist" to describe the terrorists. He asked that they describe the attackers merely as "terrorists."

Earlier, James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, called the leaders of the Taliban, the Islamic group that controls most of Afghanistan, a narrow "cult" that has no possibility of becoming a world movement.

Zogby, whose group includes a large number of Arab-American Christians, echoed the Muslim leaders' call for a searching review of America's Middle East policies. This, he said, is needed to build a long-lasting coalition against terrorism in the region.

"We need to build a coalition (of Arab nations) of common interest so that this group (bin Laden's allies) becomes the splinter group it is," he said. "We have a bad tendency to build a coalition and then act unilaterally."

Zogby, who has strong ties to the Bush White House, said he cautioned the administration against using the term "crusade" to describe the nation's campaign against terrorism. The term connotes the long, bloody papal campaign in the Middle Ages to drive Muslims out of Jerusalem and out of Europe.

Bush and Vice President Cheney have both used the term as a call to arms.

Bureau assistant David Hill contributed to this report.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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