U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has announced that federal investigators will seek to interview an additional 3,000 foreign nationals as part of an effort to prevent future terrorist attacks.
Attorney General Ashcroft says the new round of voluntary interviews will focus on immigrants who hold passports from countries known to harbor members of the al-Qaida terrorist network.
"In large measure, these will be men who come from a variety of settings and whose passports reflect a variety of settings where there have been strong al-Qaida presences," he explained.
Mr. Ashcroft says those being sought for interviews are not suspected of criminal activity. But he says they may have moved in the same social circles or community groups as those engaged in terrorist activities. The attorney general has directed federal law enforcement officials to complete the interviews within 60 days.
This second round of interviews follows an attempt to contact 5,000 men of Middle Eastern descent whom they have sought since November. Mr. Ashcroft says federal investigators were able to contact only about half of those on the initial list. But he says more than 90 percent of those who were contacted were helpful and that some of them provided valuable information to investigators.
"In fact," said Mr. Ashcroft, "many of those interviewed volunteered to provide information on an ongoing basis in the future and a significant number offered to serve as interpreters in our efforts against terrorism." The attorney general says the initial round of interviews actually fostered a new sense of trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities.
But some civil rights and Arab-American groups have complained that the effort amounted to racial profiling by unfairly targeting innocent immigrants from the Middle East.