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“Farouk,” Monteilh claims the man replied. “We’re brothers. I trust you with everything now. I don’t mind telling you about a brother that wants to help you make a bomb.”
Soon thereafter, Monteilh says, he met Ahmadullah Sais Niazi. Over the course of the next few months, Monteilh says, he spent an increasing amount of time with Niazi, discussing jihad. While eating dinner at a Chinese Islamic restaurant in May 2007, they discussed the recent death of an Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Dadullah. According to Monteilh, he secretly recorded Niazi praising Dadullah and Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
“The other one is even greater,” he claims Niazi stated.
“Who’s that?” Monteilh asked.
“The tall skinny one,” Niazi replied.
“Osama bin Laden?” Monteilh asked. “He said, ‘Shhh.’” Then, Monteilh says, Niazi boasted that when bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996, he was there to welcome him. Niazi then offered to provide Monteilh with speeches by bin Laden.
“He is an angel,” Niazi concluded. That quote, Monteilh explains, is the one that FBI agent Ropel later cited in his affidavit against Niazi.
Monteilh didn’t just secretly record Niazi, but he also kept what he claims are copies of all his e-mail communications with him, which he provided to the Weekly. Most of the messages are simply links to various websites and YouTube video clips with subject titles such as “Check this out.” Many of the links no longer work, but the ones that are still valid direct viewers to everything from Arabic instructional websites to clips of such 9/11-conspiracy movies as Loose Change, which posits that the infamous attacks were an inside job. Although many of the e-mails contain essays that are paranoid, distasteful, anti-Semitic and pro-radical-Islam, none of them even comes close to being evidence of any kind of a terrorist plot.
But Monteilh insists that such evidence does exist because he recorded Niazi and other Muslims—none of whom has been arrested nearly two years later—discussing a plot to blow up buildings in Orange County. “We talked about sites, places that were going to be targets: OC malls, Fashion Island, South Coast Plaza, the Spectrum, and the Superior Court and federal court buildings in OC,” he says. “Abandoned buildings in LA and military installations, including recruitment sites.”
It was at about this time that Monteilh typed up the surveillance report in which he claimed to have seen a group of young Middle Eastern-looking men carrying several barrels into the back door of a mosque in Tustin. After his handlers argued over whether he had made up the incident to justify the money they were paying him for three weeks, Monteilh says, the FBI finally sent a radiological team to snoop inside the mosque, using a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, which allows agents to search homes or buildings without their owners’ permission or knowledge. The results of the radiation tests, he says, were inconclusive. While there’s no evidence other than Monteilh’s word that the barrels ever existed or that the FBI took his claim seriously, the FBI has acknowledged, in response to a 2005 U.S. News & World Report story, that since 9/11, it has conducted radiation tests at mosques in the United States.
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The FBI’s surveillance of Orange County Muslims hit a snag on May 14, 2007, when an agent who was trailing a member of the Muslim Student Union at UCI nearly ran over his target with his car after the student, who realized he was being watched, tried to take the agent’s picture. Monteilh says he learned of the incident through one of his handlers, who called him with the news and warned him that mosque officials would likely become suspicious of any recent converts. “I got a phone call saying they are suspicious of [me] because of what happened,” he says, adding that the agent told him that several mosque officials had discussed him at the Islamic Center. “Our youth are being openly surveilled,” one allegedly fumed. “What about that guy Farouk? How well do you really know him?”
In Monteilh’s telling, the UC Irvine incident led to his cover being blown, thus short-circuiting his spy operation. Assuming that Monteilh isn’t fabricating the conversation he says took place, the only way the FBI would know this dialogue had happened would be if the bureau wiretapped the center. Asked if that were the case, Monteilh nodded. “I don’t know,” he said. Asked if he had bugged the office himself, he nodded again. “You know, I really don’t know.”
But there is another explanation of how Monteilh was exposed. In early June 2007, Niazi and another member of the Irvine mosque told Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR’s Southern California chapter, that they were riding to a mosque in Culver City with Monteilh when he began espousing jihad, saying he wanted to blow up buildings. “At that point, Niazi and the driver of the car realized the guy has gone crazy or is about to do something,” Ayloush says. “They were worried this guy was going to do something and they would be considered accomplices since they knew him.”