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FBI Questions High School Student Over 'PLO' Doodle

Rights groups say the district didn't notify the boy's parents before he was interviewed.

December 16, 2005|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Civil rights groups criticized the FBI and a suburban school district Thursday for allowing federal agents this fall to question a 16-year-old high school student who had doodled "PLO" on his binder two years ago.

A pair of FBI agents interviewed Munir Mario Rashed, a junior at Calvine High School, about the Palestine Liberation Organization and whether he had pictures of suicide bombers stored on his cellphone.

Munir, a fourth-generation Palestinian American, said he told agents that the only photo he carried on his phone's screen was of a mosque.

"I was scared," he said Thursday, recalling the Sept. 27 meeting. "I didn't know what was going on or what I had done wrong."

The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Sacramento sent a letter of protest Thursday to the Elk Grove School District, complaining that administrators had violated a district policy requiring that parents be notified before law enforcement officials interview a student.

"He's certainly no terrorist," said Shirin Sinnar, one of the attorneys raising concerns about the incident.

"This is just a high school student expressing support for a Palestinian group," Sinnar said. "For that to become the basis for an FBI interview two years later is pretty startling."

Attorneys representing the boy have asked the district to take disciplinary action against high school administrators who they say failed to notify his parents and determine if any school official unilaterally reported the student to the FBI, which they characterized as a violation of district protocols.

Steven M. Ladd, Elk Grove Unified superintendent, said the district would investigate.

"Obviously, we're taking this very seriously," he said. "At this point, we're looking into it and don't have any conclusions. But our district is committed to making sure all our kids feel comfortable."

FBI officials said they interviewed Munir after receiving a complaint about the doodle and allegations of pictures of suicide bombers.

"Information concerning possible terrorist or threat activity, however benign, is reviewed by the FBI," Karen Ernst, a special agent in Sacramento, said in a written response.

Ernst said the agents asked Munir before the interview if he wanted a parent present and told him he didn't have to answer any questions.

But she said the youth told the agents that he would talk to his parents later.

Munir, however, said he went into the meeting assuming that his parents had been notified and wasn't aware until afterward that they hadn't been.

After a 20-minute interview, Ernst said in the written statement, "the issues brought forth by the complainant were resolved, and no further action has been taken."

Jimmy Rashed, the youth's father, said: "I have no problem with the FBI talking to him -- we have nothing to hide. But I have a problem with the school district not calling us."

The family suspects that the complaint came from a math teacher who confronted Munir during his freshman year over a reference to the PLO, scrawled in 3-inch block letters on a binder. After the confrontation, Munir said, he protested to the principal and asked to be transferred from the class but was told it was too late in the year and he would have to stick it out.

That dispute dissipated and Munir said he had mostly forgotten about it, until he was called into the administration office in September.

The youth said he grew concerned when two strangers in dark suits identified themselves as being from the FBI.

"It was only maybe 10 minutes, but it seemed like forever," he said.

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