"We have zero tolerance to the notion that Muslims are not doing their job. We're not going to allow that," said on Friday Mahir Hathut, senior adviser for the Muslim Public Affairs Council during a press conference at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles. 

"Things are being said about Muslims that nobody could say about any other religion in America and get away with it," he added. 

Under the campaign, Muslims will watch for suspicious or dangerous behaviour and report it to authorities. American mosques will remain open to all Muslims, but administrators will keep track of who organises meetings and for what purpose. 

Praise

City, county and federal officials who participated in the press conference praised the efforts. They said that while all Americans were being asked to look out for suspicious activity, cooperation from the Muslim community was especially crucial. 

"Things are being said about Muslims that nobody could say about any other religion in America and get away with it"

Mahir Hathut,
Senior adviser for the Muslim Public Affairs Council

"Within the Islamic community, they are going to know much better who is suspicious and who is not," said John Miller, who heads homeland security operations for the Los Angeles Police Department. "The best information we can get about the fringe in the Muslim community will be from the Muslims." 

Hathut said the campaign was launched primarily in reaction to the recent announcement by Attorney General John Ashcroft that al-Qaida might be 90%  prepared for a "terrorist attack" in the United States later this year. 

'False notion'

"The danger is quite imminent," Hathout said. "But we'd like to end the false notion that Muslims are a specimen to be studied or a community to be investigated. We are full-fledged participants in the fight against terrorism in America." 

Increasing tensions over terrorism can lead to hate crimes against Muslims, noted Steven Gomez, the FBI's top counter-terrorism agent in Los Angeles. 

"We want to assure all communities that the FBI is prepared to fight all hate crimes that might come up over the next few months," Gomez said. 

Sarah al-Tantawi, the group's communications director, stressed the campaign was "not a public relations campaign. This is a very serious effort designed to protect our community, our nation from attack."