WASHINGTON (AP) – The FBI is intensifying efforts nationwide to enlist Muslims, Arab-Americans and Sikhs to help thwart a possible terrorist attack this summer or fall.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told top agents in all 56 FBI field offices to increase contacts with these groups in their areas amid a consistent flow of intelligence that indicates al-Qaida wants to launch a major attack on U.S. soil in coming months.

“While we currently lack precise knowledge about when, where and how they are planning to attack, we are actively working to gain that knowledge,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a statement issued Friday. “As part of that effort, we are again reaching out to our partners in the Muslim and Arab-American communities for any information they may have.”

Also Friday, the FBI said in its weekly intelligence bulletin to 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies that increased security precautions should be taken around energy installations such as oil refineries and nuclear power plants.

The bulletin noted a lack of specific, credible intelligence that would point to an attack on such a facility in the United States. But it said terror attacks recently have occurred against the energy sector in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and could be attempted in this country.

Before and during the Iraq war, the FBI interviewed nearly 11,000 people of Iraqi descent to gather information they might have about Saddam Hussein’s military capabilities and weapons plants.

FBI executives and agents also have held frequent community meetings around the country with Muslim, Arab-American and Sikh groups about terror threats and partly to deal with complaints that they are subjected to unfair government scrutiny in the aftermath of the terror attacks of Sept.11, 2001. Sikh men, whose religion emerged from South Asia, wear turbans and beards and sometimes are mistaken for Muslims.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said most Muslims welcome the FBI outreach effort but still have concerns about infringement of their civil liberties and legal rights.

“It can’t hurt, but we want it to go beyond public relations to address policies that single out Muslim-Americans,” Hooper said.

The new effort, which also includes stepped-up interviews by the FBI, comes as U.S. officials grapple with a persistent threat of an al-Qaida attack apparently aimed at disrupting this year’s elections.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, in a series of morning television appearances Friday, said the United States is ramping up security efforts based on new elements in intelligence about the threat and because of the Madrid train bombing in March, which proved to be a factor in Spanish elections.

“It is different, and it is sobering,” Ridge said of the intelligence on CBS’s “The Early Show.”

In addition to terrorism prevention, the FBI said it hoped the increasing contact with Muslims, Arab-Americans and Sikhs would increase these groups’ comfort levels with federal agents and reassert an FBI commitment to pursue claims of hate crimes.

Mueller and Ashcroft met last month with leaders of several national organizations, including the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Task Force.

Maher Hathout of the Muslim Public Affairs Council said the FBI effort “underscores the importance of the American Muslim community as part of the solution in its commitment to protect our country” from terrorism and hate crime.



On the Net:

FBI: http://www.fbi.gov

AP-ES-07-09-04 1852EDT



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