EVANSVILLE, Ind.—The FBI came for Tarek Albasti as he cooked pasta in his restaurant.
Agents came for Hesham Salah Salem at his fiance's house. He was waiting, his bag packed. He knew they had his brother.
On that Thursday, Oct. 11, the FBI detained Albasti, Salem and seven of their friends and relatives, who all knew each other from Egypt. They were accused of no crime, charged with nothing. They later learned they were rounded up because one of their wives -- now estranged -- had called the FBI, saying her husband had talked about killing himself in a crash.
"You feel like the whole thing is chaos, it's crazy," said Albasti, 29, an Evansville restaurant owner who is the lone U.S. citizen in the group. "We are guilty of nothing."
The FBI has released all of the men, although the INS is still holding two on immigration violations. The men say they understand that the government was just doing its job. But jail is still jail, they say, and they worry that the government will come for them again.
Their detention and release is a scene playing out nationwide, as law enforcement agents try to protect citizens from terrorism, sometimes scooping up people first and investigating later. Civil liberties advocates worry that innocent people are being swept up in the fight against terrorism. Some Evansville residents feel that happened in their town and rallied to keep Albasti's restaurant open while he was in jail.
But FBI officials say that, these days, any potential threat must be taken seriously, even if innocent people are jailed while the facts get sorted out.
The Evansville men were publicly linked to terrorism -- their photographs and their arrests splashed on the front page of the local newspaper. They are counted among the 1,147 people detained or arrested nationwide since Sept. 11, held on immigration violations or as material witnesses for grand juries.
No one arrested or detained nationwide has been charged in connection with the attacks, although one man was charged with perjury. Officials have refused to say how many detainees have been released, but a spokesman for the Justice Department said Friday that most remain behind bars.
The FBI makes no apologies for what happened to the Evansville men. Virginia Wright, an FBI spokeswoman in Chicago, said agents have been run ragged, investigating every anthrax hoax, every phone call.
"Obviously, their release indicates to me that the information initially provided was not substantiated," Wright said.
Coming to America
Albasti moved to America first, in 1994. He was on the Egyptian national rowing team when he met his wife, an Evansville native who studied in Egypt. The Albastis bought a restaurant, The Crazy Tomato, and Albasti's uncle left Egypt to help run it.
Other men, who also had been on the rowing team, followed. Albasti hired three friends at The Crazy Tomato, an upscale Italian eatery. Salem found a job at The Texas Roadhouse, a steakhouse.
The men played soccer in the mornings. They saw each other on Fridays at the local mosque. In the past year, four married Americans. Salem got engaged.
Albasti dreamed of being a pilot, and his wife's parents, an Evansville lawyer and a poet, bought him flying lessons. He hoped to go to a professional flying school, maybe this fall.
But after the attacks Sept. 11, Albasti decided to wait. As part of the FBI's initial investigation of flight schools, agents pulled Albasti in four days after the attacks. Albasti didn't hear from agents for weeks afterward, not until his friend's wife called the FBI.
Fathy and La-Tennia Abdelkhalek had married six months earlier, after knowing each other a month. On Oct. 9, La-Tennia Abdelkhalek said, her husband told her he was suicidal and said, "I'm gonna make a crash."
She said she told him that she wouldn't let him die.