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University Student Describes Questioning

It was after dark when the knock came. The three men at the door said they were police and wanted to question Mohamed Adlouni, a 22-year-old Lebanese man studying at the University of Texas.

The tall man did all the talking.

"Do you know any plans for terrorism? Do you know anyone who can make anthrax? Have you ever been to a terrorist training camp?" the man asked.

"No," Adlouni said.

Fifteen minutes later it was all over. The police were gone and Adlouni was back to studying for final exams.

"It was like they were asking me if I had ever gone to soccer camp," Adlouni said. "I wasn't offended."

Adlouni figures he was one of the 5,000 young people the Justice Department wants to interview in relation to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Most are Middle Eastern men living in the United States on nonimmigrant visas who hold passports from countries where terrorists are known to operate.

Adlouni says he fit an easy profile.

He's in the U.S. on a student visa, studying economics. His father is Lebanese and his mother is Egyptian. The family lived in Saudi Arabia for many years while his father worked for an oil company. He is Muslim.

"I don't think I was randomly selected," he said Monday.

Adlouni said he knew authorities were looking for him when neighbors said three men were seen knocking on his apartment door and peering into the windows. One, Crayton McGee, an investigator with the special crimes service of the Texas Department of Public Safety, left his business card.

Adlouni says he called McGee and left a message agreeing to meet with them, "so they don't think I'm avoiding them."

But it was two days later, at 6:45 p.m. on Dec. 5, that McGee and two other men showed up unannounced at Adlouni's girlfriend's apartment.

Only McGee identified himself, Adlouni said. They were invited inside, where the two other men sat at the dining table.

Adlouni sat on the couch. McGee, the tallest of the bunch, continued to stand and asked all the questions.

"Have you ever visited Afghanistan? Do you know anyone capable or willing to carry out an attack?" McGee asked. Adlouni answered no to all the questions, even as he considered many of them to be silly.

"If you were a terrorist, would you say yes to any of them?" Adlouni said.

Adlouni said two questions bothered him: "How do you think terrorism can be prevented in the future? Why do you think the U.S. was targeted?"

He believes those questions were designed to probe his political beliefs.

"I said maybe the U.S. should change its immigration policy," Adlouni said. "I wanted to stay simple, you don't want to say too much." But, he later said, "I have nothing to hide."

Some groups wonder why the men sought by the Justice Department should have to say anything at all.

The American Civil Liberties Union has sent letters to police chiefs across Texas urging them not to cooperate with federal efforts. The ACLU says it isn't trying to obstruct legitimate terrorism activities, but that the interview plan is a violation of core constitutional principles.

Richard Fawal, president of the Austin chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, agreed with Adlouni that the last questions should not be asked.

"What they're looking for is something to say, 'Are you somebody we should be keeping an eye on?"' Fawal said.

McGee didn't return a message left at his office. DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said the agency is cooperating with federal agents but declined further comment on Adlouni's interview.

Austin police have said they will help only in a consensual interview and will not conduct one on its own. Spokesman Paul Flaningan said he believes an APD officer was present during Adlouni's interview.

Adlouni said he was comfortable during questioning and called the investigators "respectful."

He grew up attending American schools in Saudi Arabia before going to prep school outside Philadelphia. Dressed in jeans and a white cable-knit sweater, his English is impeccable. Friends call him "Mo."

He considers himself largely apathetic to the turmoil in the Middle East, including the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A Sunni Muslim, Adlouni believes in God but doesn't consider himself a very religious person.

He wants to work in the U.S. and has considered applying for citizenship.

"I didn't come here and my father didn't spend all that money on my education just to leave," Adlouni said.

Adlouni, who is comfortable with Western styles and language, probably handled his interview better than most would, Fawal said.

"We're more concerned with somebody who isn't so assimilated, who's much less aware of their rights," said Fawal. He worries the interviews amount to racial profiling by police.

Fawal's biggest concern is the unannounced interview. Although Adlouni had called investigators, they tracked him down at his girlfriend's apartment and showed up without any warning.

"We certainly don't support that," Fawal said. His group is trying to inform local Arabs who think they will be interviewed on how to contact a lawyer and have one present when they are questioned. That's hard to do with an unannounced interrogation, he said.

Adlouni said that with his background, he often has faced authorities probing for information, such as whenever he travels to and from the Middle East. He'll likely face more if he goes Lebanon over the winter break between semesters.

Or he could stay here, to prepare other Arab students facing similar interviews.

"As long as you know you've done nothing wrong," Adlouni said, "you have nothing to worry about."