Rift develops between Muslims, FBI over mosque surveillance
A coalition of Islamic organizations threatens to cut ties with federal authorities after an Irvine man admitted to serving as a paid informant.
By Sean Emery
The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, CA), March 26, 2009
Irvine, CA — A coalition of Islamic organizations angered by reports of the government sending a paid informant to infiltrate Orange County mosques is threatening to cut ties with the FBI and accusing the agency of using 'McCarthy-era tactics.'
The announcement by the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections comes on the heels of Irvine resident Craig Monteilh's admissionthat he spent more than a year pretending to embrace Islam in various Southern California mosques as part of an FBI-led effort to weed out terrorist threats.
Monteilh claims that the conversations he recorded helped lead to the arrest last month of Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, a Tustin resident and member of the Islamic Center of Irvine, on several immigration-fraud charges. FBI officials at Niazi's bail hearingclaimed he had been secretly recorded discussing terrorist plots.
Monteilh's admission, as well as Niazi's arrest, have shocked and frightened the local Muslim community, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Council on Islamic American Relations (CAIR), a member of the American Muslim Taskforce.
Ayloush said Monteih, who had previously served a prison term for conning two women out of more than $150,000, violated the sanctity of the Islamic religion.
'The government was paying a convicted felon who would probably not be trusted to be a cashier at a supermarket,'' Ayloush said. 'Yet the FBI found it acceptable to entrust this convicted felon with national security issues.
'We're not talking about a sending an informant to track a specific suspect,'' he said. 'Based on the admission of the informant himself he was just fishing around for potential victims. These are not the acts of an agency interested in an honest dialogue or partnership.'
The FBI has not addressed the specific allegations brought by the Islamic groups, but has urged continued cooperation.
'Limiting honest dialogue, especially when complex issues are on the table, is generally not an effective advocacy strategy,' FBI spokesman John Miller said in a written release. 'The FBI has continued our outreach efforts, across the board, with a number of concerned groups and where we agree — or disagree — most have concluded the best results are achieved through continued conversation. We believe that too.'
Ayloush described the threat to cease working with the FBI as a 'cry for help.' The Islamic organizations feel betrayed by a 'nationwide pattern of abuse and violations of civil rights, as well as religious rights,' Ayloush said, particularly during the Bush administration.
'If the FBI is incapable of reforming its mindset as it deals with American Muslims, we need to help the FBI change,' Ayloush said. 'We have a president and an attorney general who represent an administration that has made commitments to protecting the civil and religious rights of all Americans, and undue much of the policies and culture of polarization and demonization against Muslims.'
CAIR has had its own rocky relationship with the FBI, which recently announced that it has ended formal partnerships with the group. CAIR had previously assisted the FBI with outreach efforts to Muslim groups in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and also helped with cultural sensitivity training for government agents.
But CAIR came under fire in 2007, when it was among 300 Muslim groups and individuals named as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorist funding case against the Holy Land Foundation, which ended in a mistrial.
Several individuals with ties to CAIR have also been convicted or deported for their connections to terrorist groups. CAIR officials strenuously deny any terrorist links, however, and accuse political opponents of tarring them with guilt by association.
'CAIR still has the same access to the FBI as any other person or group to report hate crimes, civil rights violations or any other threat or violation of federal law,'' Miller said in the written statement. 'What we have sought to limit are any formally constructed partnerships between CAIR and the FBI.
'Our concerns relate to a number of distinct narrow issues specific to CAIR and its national leadership,'' he said. 'We have made CAIR's national leadership aware of these issues.'