Attorney Says FBI Is Trying to Silence Anti-War Activists

September 27, 2010 - 5:15 AM

Chicago (AP) - FBI agents in Chicago took a laptop and documents from the home of a Palestinian-American anti-war activist in an attempt to silence his advocacy, an attorney said Sunday.

The FBI on Friday searched eight addresses in Minneapolis and Chicago, including the home of Hatem Abudayyeh, who is the executive director of the Arab American Action Network, attorney Jim Fennerty told The Associated Press.

"The government's trying to quiet activists," Fennerty said. "This case is really scary."

More than half a dozen agents went to Abudayyeh's home on Friday and took any documents containing the word "Palestine," Fennerty said.

Abudayyeh, a U.S. citizen whose parent immigrated from Palestine, wasn't home at the time of the raid because he was at a hospital with his mother who is battling liver cancer, Fennerty said.

A message left for an FBI spokesman in Chicago wasn't immediately returned Sunday. The FBI has declined to give details on the searches, saying the agency was investigating criminal activity not protected by the First Amendment.

Warrants suggested agents were looking for links between anti-war activists and terrorist groups in Colombia and the Middle East.

Fennerty said Abudayyeh has done nothing wrong and doesn't have any ties to terrorist groups, including Hamas, the Islamic militant group that seized power in the Gaza Strip in 2007. His name was also spelled "Hatam" on FBI documents.

A subpoena delivered to one of the Minnesota activists commanded him to produce records he might have relating to the Middle East and Colombia, along with "all records of any payment provided directly or indirectly to Hatam Abudayyeh."

"Hatem wouldn't even touch Hamas," Fennerty told AP. "Hatem is a secular guy, he's not interested in Hamas."

Abudayyeh, a longtime advocate for immigrant rights, has had close personal and professional ties to the Arab American Action Network for decades. But Fennerty said he did not believe the group to be the focus of the FBI's investigation.

Abudayyeh's parents immigrated to Chicago in the 1970s and were instrumental in founding a community center that later led to the Arab American Action Network. Abudayyeh joined the group in 1999 and became executive director in 2003.

The nonprofit group advocates for Arabs and new immigrants. Recently, its focus has been to combat anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Abudayyeh has not traveled to Palestine in years, Fennerty said, but he cares about the region and has close cultural ties; his wife is a Palestinian immigrant. In fact, their courtship and marriage was the focus of a PBS "New Americans" documentary several years ago. The couple now has a daughter.

"He's a very caring person, active in his community and other communities," Fennerty said. "He's a father."

Abudayyeh didn't return multiple requests for comment and neither his cell phone nor office phone could take messages Sunday because voicemail boxes were full.

Word of the raids sent a ripple throughout activist circles.

One group of anti-war activists in Chicago called an "emergency meeting" on Chicago's South Side on Sunday to plan demonstrations and rallies for Monday and Tuesday.

"These raids are an attack on the entire anti-war movement," said Maureen Murphy, a member of the Palestine Solidarity Group in Chicago. "Everyone in peace and social justice is deeply concerned."

FBI officials, who served six warrants in Minneapolis and two in Chicago, have said there was no imminent threat to the community. There were no arrests.

Those served were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago next month.

In Chicago, anti-war activists Joe Iosbaker and his wife, Stephanie Weiner, said the government targeted them because they've been outspoken against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. funding of conflicts abroad. They denied any wrongdoing.

The homes of longtime Minneapolis anti-war activists Mick Kelly, Jess Sundin and Meredith Aby were also searched.

Several activists said they thought the searches amounted to "fishing expeditions" in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court Decision.

In June, the Court rejected a free-speech challenge to the law from humanitarian aid groups that said some provisions put them at risk of being prosecuted for talking to terrorist organizations about nonviolent activities. The federal law cited in the search warrants prohibits "providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations."