Washington, Nov. 25--(AP) Muslims and people who are or appear to be of Middle Eastern descent were reported as victims of hate crimes more often last year than ever before, a consequence of the fear and suspicion that followed the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the FBI said Monday.

Although the number of incidents has tapered off, many Muslims remain worried about a new backlash if the United States goes to war with Iraq or is hit with another major terror attack mounted by Islamic extremists. "There's a great deal of apprehension in the Muslim community as to the demonization of Islam," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "A lot of us feel that our patriotism is always suspect."

The FBI's annual hate crimes report found that incidents targeting people, institutions and businesses identified with the Islamic faith increased from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001 - a jump of 1,600 percent. Muslims previously had been among the least-targeted religious groups. The statistics did not specify how many of the 481 occurred after Sept. 11, 2001.

Hate crimes against people because of their ethnicity or national origin - those not Hispanic, not black and not Asian or American Indian - more than quadrupled from 354 in 2000 to 1,501 in 2001. This category includes people of Middle Eastern origin or descent. The increases, the FBI said, happened "presumably as a result of the heinous incidents that occurred on Sept. 11."

Hooper said the FBI figures probably represent only a small portion of the true number of hate crimes, because many of the estimated 7 million Muslims in the United States do not report such incidents to authorities.

Hate crimes, defined as a crime motivated by prejudice, are somewhat subjective, because many times they result from witness and victim accounts rather than a police investigation. Overall allegations of crime motivated by hate rose just over 17 percent from 2000 to 2001, from 8,063 to 9,730 incidents - still only a fraction of the 11.8 million serious crimes reported to the FBI last year. Part of the increase stems from a higher number of law enforcement agencies that supplied the data to the FBI in 2001. Despite the increase, Muslims remain behind blacks, Jews and homosexuals in the numbers of reported hate crimes.

There were 2,899 incidents against blacks in 2001, about the same as the year before, and just over 1,000 against Jews, down slightly from the year before. Almost 1,400 incidents involved crimes against homosexuals, and whites were targeted in 891 cases, the FBI said.

Just over 12,000 victims of all hate crimes were reported in 2001, with 46 percent of them targeted because of their race. Last year's overall total was about 9,900 hate crime victims. There were 10 murders, four rapes, 2,736 assaults and 3,563 cases of intimidation motivated by hate in 2001. There were more than 3,600 property crimes, all but a few involving vandalism or property destruction.

Whites comprised the vast majority of known offenders for all cases, at 6,054, followed by blacks at 1,882. The FBI does not compile information on how many offenders were arrested and prosecuted; a "known offender" means only that the alleged offender's race is known, officials said.

Most incidents against Muslims and people who are or were believed to have been of Middle Eastern ethnicity involved assaults and intimidation, but three cases of murder or manslaughter and 35 cases of arson were reported.

President Bush and others in the administration repeatedly have said Islam is a peaceful religion and that the huge majorities of Arabs or other Middle Eastern ethnic groups in the United States are upstanding citizens. Some conservative Christian leaders, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, have characterized Muslims and Islam as violently anti-Semitic. That led Bush to declare this month that such comments "do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans."

Many Muslims have criticized the Justice Department for immigration policies they say unfairly single out Muslims and people of Middle Eastern ethnicity for special searches, interrogation, fingerprinting and photographs. But Hooper also praised the department for taking seriously hate crimes against Muslims.

In the Washington area, some mosques and institutions affiliated with Islam received threats after the arrest of John Muhammad, a Muslim convert, in the October sniper shootings.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmed, president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute in Bethesda, Md., said many Muslims seek to dispel an "atmosphere of suspicion" by openly demonstrating their patriotism or doing more public charity work. "There are many people who behave more cautiously, and others who are reaching out more," said Ahmed, whose institute promotes free-market policies.

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