Portland State sophomore Mohamud Abi was interrogated on campus by two agents from the FBI and INS last Friday regarding his alleged involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. The agents were acting on a tip that led them to Abi.
No one from either agency has contacted Abi since Friday.
Abi, a permanent U.S. resident, was perplexed by the questions. “The first day I had ever heard or seen Bin Laden was Sept. 11,” Abi said.
A former member of the PSU student senate, and vice-president of the Association of African Students at PSU, Abi had no idea any sort of investigation was underway when his roommate awoke to loud knocking at their door Friday morning.
“They made him show his ID, in case he was me and was lying,” Abi said. When the investigators found that Abi wasn’t home, they went to the Multicultural Center in Smith Memorial Center, where Abi works, to question him.
Abi, originally from Somalia, has worked to send help back to his war-torn country of origin. “We’ve sent books and 15 computers to Somalia. We do fund-raising to help people,” Abi told the investigators. After this, he said, their demeanor improved and the questions ended.
According to Vice-Provost for Student Affairs Douglas Samuels, Abi did the right thing in cooperating. “Students have the right to say ‘I’d prefer not to talk to you’,” Samuels explained. “My advice is to be cooperative.”
Since PSU is a public university, authorities don’t need permission from the administration to question students.
“We have a good working relationship with [law enforcement],” Samuels said. “Sometimes they give us a courtesy call and sometimes not.”
Samuels said that the FBI and INS’s questioning of Abi isn’t harassment. “They have to follow up on every lead, pressure’s on,” Samuels said of the political climate in America following the September attacks.
Samuels referenced the recent scandal where the Bush administration supposedly overlooked important memos that predicted the September attacks. Even if the tip is erroneous, a failure to follow up on it can make authorities look careless.
Students who feel uncomfortable talking with authorities by themselves can ask for the interview to be conducted in the presence of an administrator or an advisor. Likewise, Samuels is available for discussing the effects of situations like this.
Samuels says that he hasn’t heard of any large increase in students being interrogated by federal officers since Sept. 11.
“Immediately after the attacks, some students expressed concerns about being questioned based on their ethnicity,” Samuels said.
Mohamud was the first student to come to Samuels with this kind of story. “I’ve heard of others [who have been interrogated], but I think they’re afraid of speaking up,” Abi said.
Abi’s case follows the apprehension of a number of students around the country for allegedly cheating on the Test of English as a Foreign Language exam just a week ago. Federal officials presented those arrests as one step in eliminating terrorism in America.
Where the tip came from in Abi’s case is information that won’t be released.
“The country is very concerned with security,” Samuels said, and incidents like this will most likely continue until the political climate changes.