FBI Terrorism Task Force Raids Arab Web Hosting Firm
By Tim McDonald
September 7, 2001
The FBI said the raid on InfoCom Corporation, which hosts Arab Web sites, was part of a two-year investigation, but the agency would not disclose further details.
An 80-member FBI terrorism task force on Wednesday and Thursday raided the offices of InfoCom Corporation, a Texas-based company that hosts a broad array of Arab Web sites, including the Arab world's leading news channel.
The FBI said the action was part of a two-year investigation by the North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force, but declined to give specific reasons for the raid on the company in Richardson, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.
Arab leaders said the company, and other Arab groups with which it is associated, have been unfairly targeted.
"These groups have come under tremendous pressure over the years from representatives of the pro-Israel lobby and from ardently pro-Israel politicians," Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Muslim Islamic Relations, told NewsFactor Network.
FBI: Criminal, Not Political
But FBI officials denied any bias or political motivation, and said the bureau was acting on a properly executed federal search warrant. The warrant was sealed by a federal magistrate.
"This is a criminal investigation, not a political investigation," FBI spokesperson Lori Bailey told reporters. "We're hoping to find evidence of criminal activity."
In addition to hosting Arab Web sites, InfoCom sells computer systems and Internet services to Islamic organizations and businesses in the U.S. and Middle East. The company, which said it has 15 full- and part-time employees, denied any links to terrorist groups and said it was cooperating fully in the investigation.
TV Site Temporarily Closed
The raid resulted in the closure of about 500 sites the company hosts, including the Al-Jazeera Television channel, which has emerged as one of the major conduits through which Arabs get news in a region marked by strict state media censorship.
"We don't know what [the FBI's] reasons or evidence is because they won't say," Hooper said. "It becomes a bit suspicious when 80 agents raid a business that hosts 500 Web sites to get evidence that they could have gotten off the Web. We've asked for an explanation, but the FBI won't give us one."
Denies Terrorist Links
One of the company's clients is the Holy Land Foundation, a charity organization that has been accused by Israel of raising money for various terrorist groups.
Arab leaders held a news conference to protest the FBI's actions, calling it an "anti-Muslim witch hunt." They insisted the task force, which also included the Secret Service and the U.S. Customs Service, acted on little evidence, but rather on political pressure and anti-Arab stereotypes.
"While Muslims understand the FBI's mission to protect American citizens, we are concerned that the civil liberties of InfoCom's owners and their many important clients were violated by this unexpected raid," the Arab group said in a statement.
"Such an assault leaves
the Muslim community and the public at large with many unanswered
questions and a lingering sense of violation," the statement
said. "We expect the FBI to provide a prompt and full disclosure
of the circumstances that led to this raid, the basis of their
suspicions and the evidence for which they were searching."