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News10 – December 15, 2005

Civil rights groups question FBI interrogation
 of Muslim student

Jason Kobely

Area civil rights groups are angry after a Muslim Elk Grove (CA) high school student was taken out of class and questioned by FBI agents over three letters he scrawled on his binder two years ago.

Calvine High School student Munir Raseh, 16, said he was pulled out of class on September 27 and questioned by two men who identified themselves as FBI agents. Raseh said the men asked him about a 2003 incident, when a math teacher at another school reprimanded the teen for writing the letters "PLO" on his binder.

"Basically, the teacher said he saw the PLO and said it was a terrorist organization and that the people that run it are all terrorists," Raseh said.

Raseh told the agents that while the letters did represent the controversial Palestinian Liberation Organization, the letters were merely the result of doodling.

The FBI then allegedly continued with the questioning, asking Raseh how he knew about the PLO, whether he was familiar with the terror-related investigation of several Lodi Muslims, whether he had ever traveled to Palestine, and whether he had pictures of terrorists on his cell phone. Raseh had a picture of a mosque as his phone's background display.

"I was shocked," Raseh said. "I was born in California. I'm an American citizen." Raseh believes his math teacher contacted the FBI about the incident.

Representatives of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and the Sacramento Valley office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations are now asking why school officials allowed the questioning without notifying the teen's parents.

Basim Elkarra, head of the CAIR (Sacramento), said both the FBI and school administrators went too far. "The district violated their own policy by not informing Munir's parents," Elkarra said.

A district statement said officials are investigating the allegations.

According to a statement issued by FBI spokeswoman Karen Ernst, the agents interviewed the teen after receiving a complaint about the binder incident as well as reports Raseh had pictures of suicide bombers on his cell phone. When asked if he wanted a parent present, agents said the teen declined to answer questions. Ernst also said the issues about the incident raised by Raseh were resolved and no further action was taken.

Raseh said he believed his parents had already been notified of the interview. His family has hired an attorney. "When you get interrogated because of your race or your political beliefs, that's wrong," Raseh said.