Arab-American activists and students expressed outrage Tuesday at the arrests by federal agents in Los Angeles of seven alleged members of a militant Palestinian group, charging that their civil rights were blatantly violated.
"These people are being labeled as terrorists without a shred of evidence," said Faris Bouafa, spokesman for the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, a nonprofit group based in Washington.
"They're not guilty of anything except expressing political beliefs, however unpopular they may be, which are protected by the First Amendment" of the U.S. Constitution.
The group's director in Southern California, Samir Twair, said of the arrests: "It's a violation of human rights. They were picked up from their beds. This is America. We feel outrage."
The seven were taken into custody in Monday morning raids by Immigration and Naturalization Service agents following an FBI investigation. The FBI claims that they are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist terrorist branch of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Few new details about the arrests could be learned from federal authorities on Tuesday, as FBI and INS officials declined to comment.
The defendants, six Jordanians and a woman from Kenya, all charged with violations of U.S. immigration laws, face possible deportation. They are to appear at a bail hearing today before a federal immigration judge.
Meanwhile, the angry wife of one of the seven, Amjad Mustafa Obeid, 23, a fourth-year engineering student at California State University, Long Beach, described how "about 10" immigration agents barged into their Long Beach home, some with guns drawn, and "laughed" when they were asked about the civil rights of those arrested.
'They Just Ignored Me'
"I kept asking them what were the charges, where were they taking him, and they just ignored me," said Maria Garcia, 22, Obeid's wife and a junior journalism student at the school.
"I was really angry that they wouldn't tell us what was going on. When Amjad asked them, 'Aren't you going to read me my rights?' they just laughed" and took him away in handcuffs, she said.
Obeid's brother, Ayman, 22, a third-year civil engineering student at the school, who, like his brother, is here on a student visa, also was arrested. Acquaintances said they come from an upper-middle-class family in Jordan, where their father is a building contractor.
Garcia and four of the defendant's student friends expressed anger and dismay at the arrests in interviews in the school's student union. They said they were particularly upset that the U.S. government could so suddenly arrest and deport residents who they said were here legally and who had no criminal records.
Concern About Freedom
"It shocked all of us," said Maher Qubain, a Jordanian friend of the couple. "Everyone has expressed concern about our freedom in this country. We'd just like to know what's going on."
The seven suspects were arrested on a federal order to show cause why they should not be deported. The order charged that each has "been a member of or affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an organization that advocated the economic, international and governmental doctrines of . . . world communism through written or printed publications. . . . "
Led by Syrian-based George Habash, the Palestinian group gained worldwide notoriety in the 1970s through a series of spectacular hijackings, including the June 27, 1976, seizure of an Air France airliner that was hijacked and flown to Uganda's Entebbe airport. A few days later, Israeli commandos stormed the airport waiting room, killing all seven hijackers and rescuing 103 passengers and crew members.
Ironically, one of the seven arrested Monday, Khader Musa Hamide, 32, of Glendale, a Jordanian whom the FBI identified as the alleged California leader of the Palestinian group, was to have learned Tuesday whether the INS had approved his U.S. citizenship application, said his attorney, Gary Silbiger.
"He was real shocked," Silbiger said, after he met with Hamide on Monday afternoon in a detention area in the downtown Federal Building.
Was College Student
Hamide was described by Silbiger as a soft-spoken, slightly built 16-year resident of Southern California who studied marketing in college and who is a representative for an out-of-state business.
Hamide also was described as a political activist by James Zogby, director of the Arab American Institute in Washington, a nonprofit research center.
"He's a solid, committed Arab-American concerned with civil rights questions," Zogby said in a telephone interview. "He's been outspoken on issues in Central America and opposes (U.S.) aid to the contras" fighting government forces in Nicaragua.
Hamide, he said, also was involved with the November 29th Committee, which was founded in 1984 and which took its name from a United Nations' declaration for a day of solidarity with the Palestinians.