FBI Uses Plane To Watch For Signs Of Terrorist Connections

(BLOOMINGTON, Ind., February 28th, 2003, 10 a.m.) -- An airplane seen flying above this college town every day for more than a week is being used by the FBI as part of anti-terrorism surveillance, agency officials said.

Many of those being watched are foreign nationals, FBI agents Thomas V. Fuentes and James H. Davis told The Herald-Times for a story Friday.

Fuentes and Davis said the FBI is not aware of any terrorist threat directed toward Bloomington or Indiana.

FBI agents have also questioned several foreign students at Indiana University in recent weeks. Agency spokesman Doug Garrison would not say if those interviews were related to national security or to the airplane's flights.

Residents in the city of 69,000 have seen the white, single-engine Cessna 182 at least since Feb. 19 making passes overhead about noon, in the late evening and after midnight.

Aviation officials had said earlier this week they were aware of the airplane but could not discuss it.

The FBI initially had denied that the aircraft belonged to it. Fuentes said that was because a reporter had asked an agent if the FBI had an airplane doing electronic surveillance in Bloomington.

The aircraft does not carry any electronic monitoring equipment or weapons-detection systems, the officials said.

"There should be no concern that the aircraft is doing anything other than assisting with physical surveillance," Davis said.

FBI officials said the aircraft was conducting surveillance flights over several communities. Fuentes said it was based in "the general Indianapolis area." Bloomington is about 40 miles south of Indianapolis.

Fuentes said the flights and some of the interviews were in response to intelligence indicating the possibility of terrorist attacks inside and outside the United States if the U.S. invades Iraq.

"We're talking to a lot of people all over the state," he said.

Bloomington, the home of Indiana University's flagship campus, has more than 3,300 students from foreign countries, according to information posted on IU's Web site.

About 12,000 international students are enrolled in about 40 Indiana private and public colleges. They are primarily from China, India, Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan.

The airplane is not being used to watch anti-war protesters, Fuentes said.

The aircraft is monitoring individuals, vehicles and businesses -- particularly those open late at night from which faxes or e-mails can be sent, the officials said.

Fuentes declined to say if the FBI was conducting electronic surveillance at ground level.

FBI agents also have interviewed international students both on and off campus in the past several weeks, said Bob Weith, the university's director of residential operations.

IU interim President Gerald Bepko said officials were aware of the FBI's presence on campus and have been cooperating with the agency.

"We know they've been very busy," Bepko said. "What we don't know is if they're doing anything different than they would at any university with a large number of international students."

Federal agents have increased their presence on college campuses since Sept. 11, 2001. Also, the FBI last month began questioning up to 50,000 Iraqis living in the United States.

There are no Iraqi students enrolled at IU, said Christopher Viers, director of the university's Office of International Services.

FBI agents have visited a Bloomington mosque and interviewed several IU students from the Middle East during the past year, said Amr Sabry, president of the Islamic Center in Bloomington.

Sabry said the visits were friendly. However, he said there had been at least two occasions when younger students were upset about the questioning.

"They were pretty shaken when they came and talked to me," he said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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