WASHINGTON -- Federal investigators are conducting raids nationwide on jewelry stores owned mostly by Pakistanis, hoping to break up fronts for terrorist groups or their financial backers, U.S. officials say.
The raids have taken place in several cities over the past two weeks, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and New York. About 75 jewelry stores have been raided, said a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Tariq Hussain, 27, a recently discharged U.S. Army mechanic whose Intrigue Jewelers kiosk in suburban Pittsburgh was searched on June 26, said FBI agents questioned him for several hours and wanted to know if he had connections to the al-Qaida terrorist network or its leader, Osama bin Laden.
"They took everything, my paperwork, bills, my computer, my checks," he said. "I told them, 'I don't have any links to anything like that.'"
The raids were not prompted by evidence of wrongdoing by all the individuals who were questioned, another U.S. official said. More than a dozen people are still in detention following the raids.
The government had acknowledged that some raids were conducted in late June, but had refused to discuss whether they were linked to efforts to fight terrorism. Some officials referred to the raids as "immigration sweeps."
The officials said the jewelry shop owners have been asked about their accounting practices and whether they send money to any foreign organizations on a regular basis.
The U.S. official said the authority to conduct the raids was under seal and declined to cite the statute that makes the raids legal.
Immigration and Naturalization Service officials would not comment on the raids, except to acknowledge that an ongoing operation was under way.
The largest raids took place between June 28 and July 2. Agents swept jewelry stores in Pennsylvania, Florida, California, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina. Since then, smaller raids have taken place in Texas, California and Massachusetts, officials said.