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A cluster of lemon-colored apartment buildings brightens an otherwise dingy corner at Cleveland and Gray streets in Durham. Most, but not all of the families who live there are Muslim, and for that reason the FBI visited Matthew Flynn.
Flynn is not a Muslim but he owns the 32-unit apartment complex north of downtown. In 2007, agents, including FBI Specialist Jeffrey Bloesch—who, according to a recent Durham Police Department report, was recognized for his role in the 2009 bust of Daniel Boyd and six other Wake County terrorism suspects—visited Flynn at his home.
"They said there had been an influx of Muslims in the area and that some had been red-flagged," Flynn recalls. "They said four of them had moved to my community."
The agents asked for bank and checking account information for those four tenants, Flynn says, but they did not present him with a warrant or a subpoena.
"I didn't know what to do. I talked to my attorney, who said they are going to get the information one way or another," he says.
Flynn provided the information to the FBI but says he told his tenants what he had done.
"I said, 'I believe you are all good people. I have no issue with you," Flynn explains. "And an older gentleman laughed and said, 'They've come to my house.'"
That gentleman, Rafi (he asked that his last name not be disclosed), says the FBI has visited him once in Durham and another time years earlier, when he lived in New Jersey.
"They wanted to know who I worked for and did I know any radical Muslims," says Rafi, a former Southern Baptist who converted to Islam in 1979. "They wanted to know if I'd been traveling or had seen any suspicious characters. They wanted to know if I had information, and if I did, they would compensate me for it."
Rafi says his views may be "on the strong side," in that "Islam is an entire system based on God's laws, and God's laws and man's laws are at times diametrically opposed."
But, he says, "I'm not a security risk."
FBI spokesperson Amy Thoreson, who works in the Charlotte Division that oversees the Raleigh field office, says the bureau can't confirm or deny the existence of its investigations. Thoreson says the bureau can't discuss what the investigations may have uncovered.
While some Muslims have committed or planned to commit acts of terrorism in the U.S. and abroad, innocent people of that faith have been swept up in federal investigations.
"The way the FBI is doing this is racially motivated," Rafi says. "After Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building, there was not a widespread dragnet of all white male Christians."
FBI surveillance has put Muslims in a "persistent state of insecurity," says Khalilah Sabra of the Muslim American Society in Raleigh. She says some Muslims' citizenship applications have been delayed indefinitely.
"They are and have been law-abiding citizens. The only so-called impediment is that they are Muslim, which immediately puts them in a category subject to surveillance and an acute invasion of privacy," Sabra says.
Flynn says two of the four "flagged" tenants still live in the apartment complex. He says he has had no problems with those residents nor other Muslim tenants.
"What the Muslim community has done is taken an apartment complex that once had 200 police calls a year and stabilized the community," Flynn says. "It's ironic the FBI questioned me about them."
Correction (Nov. 11, 2010): See comments below.