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Walking a fine legal line with Muslims

world Updated: Aug 31, 2011 23:06 IST
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On a cold, gloomy day in February last year, a group of protesters showed up at the US attorney's office here, demanding to see a prosecutor who had brought a terrorism case against a young Muslim man.

They had spent the week pursuing Aloke Chakravarty, an assistant U.S. attorney, bombarding him with faxes and phone calls and accusing him of what may be the serious affront to a government lawyer: targeting Muslims because of their faith.

However, the prosecutor who had aroused the ire of some in Boston's Muslim community was a man who had shaped his career, in part, around protecting the civil rights of that very group, feeling that it had been unfairly targeted by bigotry. And he had been leading the Justice Department's efforts to create a new relationship with Muslims.

He also was the man who had prosecuted several Muslims in terrorism investigations. Now, he found himself under attack.

A decade after the September 11, 2001, terror strikes, the dilemma for Chakravarty and other federal officials — searching for homegrown terrorists without violating the rights of Muslims — remains as sharp as it was in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

Justice Department and FBI officials say they have helped prevent a second major terror attack in America and arrested numerous would-be terrorists.

The government's efforts have relied in part on a more trusting relationship with Muslims and many leaders in the community have been open to that.

But others have complained about federal law enforcement and its investigations, surveillance and arrests of Muslims.

It is one of those arrests and prosecutions that has complicated Chakravarty's dual role: From his office next to Boston Harbor, he has taken the lead in trying to build a better rapport with Muslims. But he also is prosecuting the terror case against Tarek Mehanna, a local Muslim whose trial is scheduled for early October.

In meetings with Muslims, Chakravarty is polite and solicitous.

In court, he is the tough post-September 11 prosecutor, endorsing tactics that are considered routine by law enforcement officials but have infuriated many Muslims, including the use of cooperating witnesses in their community.

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