WASHINGTON — Leaders of the Arab-American community today accused the FBI of a reluctance to thoroughly investigate acts of domestic terrorism against members of their ethnic group.
Instead, they told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights the government considers Arab-Americans a potential source of terrorism and carries on intelligence-gathering operations against them.
Oliver Revell, the FBI's executive assistant director for investigations, denied the charges and said "one of our highest priorities" is the capture of the person who last year killed Alex M. Odeh, an Arab-American community leader in Southern California.
The commission's session, which at times turned acrimonious, was prompted by the Oct. 11 killing of Odeh and a number of other violent incidents directed at prominent Arab-American group leaders. A number of leaders, including former Sen. James G. Abourezk (D-S.D.), had requested the session.
"Historically, the FBI has shown a reluctance to assign the priority to these cases of domestic terrorism that they deserve," Abourezk, chairman of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told the commission.
"Actually, the FBI itself has in the past targeted the Arab-American community for political surveillance and has made it the subject of information gathering for foreign intelligence investigations," he said.
James Zogby of the Arab-American Institute made similar charges, arguing that "not once in 15 years have federal law enforcement officials produced an indictment against those who have threatened with attack, attacked, injured or killed Arab-American leaders or brought damage to their institutions."
Abourezk and Zogby also blamed some mainline Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith as well as politicians and the media, for fostering anti-Arab stereotypes and for a kind of singular linkage of "terrorism" with Arabs.
Abourezk accused President Reagan of creating "a cowboy political atmosphere to pursue whatever it is he is pursuing" in his anti-terrorism comments and Norma Odeh, wife of Alex Odeh, noted a silence from the White House on the murder of her husband.
"Discrimination was evident from the office of the President, other politicians and the press," she said. "While terror's other victims received personal condolences, we heard not a word."