Irvine Mosque Speaks: OC Weekly World Exclusive!
On Feb. 21, FBI agents arrested Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, an Afghan immigrant, and charged him with lying about his brother-in-law's status as an alleged Al Qaeda terrorist. A few days later, Craig Monteilh, a convicted con artist, held a press conference to announce that he was an FBI informant and had helped the FBI bust Niazi. Over the next few months, Monteilh made numerous claims in published articles--including this one in the Weekly--asserting that he had been recruited by the FBI to snoop out terrorists at the Islamic Center of Irvine (ICOI), the very mosque where two years ago, an FBI assistant director promised that the bureau would never do any such thing.
Until he stepped forward to take credit for the Niazi arrest, Monteilh's only claim to fame was being reported to the FBI by the ICOI for making terrorist threats. (He later served several months in prison for grand theft). So far, the FBI--which did acknowledge that Monteilh had provided a tape recording of Niazi praising Osama bin Laden as an "angel"--has refused to confirm or deny Monteilh's claims that he was a highly-paid informant who helped the bureau stymie terrorist attacks in Orange County. Meanwhile, ICOI officials have also refused to comment, citing Monteihl's legal effort to have the mosque's restraining order against him lifted. (A judge recently vacated the restraining order after Monteilh signed a voluntary agreement not to go near the mosque).
Although ICOI has passed on interview requests from the LA Times, Associated Press, Al Jazeera and CNN, yesterday two of its officials, Imam Sadullah Khan, the mosque's religious director, and Asim Khan, an ICOI executive council member, agreed to an exclusive interview with the Weekly. In a two-hour interview, which was also attended by ICOI's attorney, Omar Siddiqui, ICOI officials provided an in-depth account of Monteilh's appearance at the mosque, his conversion to Islam and the complaints that other congregants eventually made about him, complaints that ultimately led ICOI to report Monteilh to the FBI and Irvine Police Department for making terrorist threats.
I'll be reporting the details of this as-yet-unheard side of the story soon. For now, let it suffice to focus on a revelation that is likely to lead to increased skepticism about Monteilh's credibility. ICOI officials told me they recently held two friendly meetings with high-ranking FBI officials--John Miller, assistant director of public affairs, and Salvador Hernandez, assistant director for the bureau's LA division--in which the FBI distanced itself from Monteilh's widely publicized claims.
"ICOI has a very close relationship with law enforcement," Siddiqui said. "ICOI had detailed conversations with the FBI, and although they didn't go into any specifics, the FBI did share that what has been reported in the media is grossly exaggerated." Siddiqui added that while the FBI and ICOI weren't planning to hold a joint press conference to demonstrate their cooperative relationship, he said he "wouldn't be surprised" if the bureau makes such an announcement soon. "The FBI is not in the business of holding press conferences," Siddiqui said. "But we were happy to hear the FBI is fully supportive of the center and what it's doing."
The very fact that the FBI is holding friendly meetings with ICOI seems to fly in the face of Monteilh's claim that the bureau either hired him to target the mosque or that it ever even harbored any suspicions about ICOI that would lead it to do so. Rather, it suggests that while Monteilh may indeed have provided the bureau with a tape recording of one ICOI attendee making pro-terrorist statements, he may not have had any further relationship with the FBI.
Of course, there are a lot of other hints that Monteilh has been bullshitting the general public about his informant status all along--like his claim that the FBI's confidential informant entry exam consists of a series of trivia questions about Middle Eastern and Russian heads of state, or that he infiltrated a terrorist cell at the ICOI that was in the advanced stages of plotting local attacks, despite the fact that nobody other than Niazi has been arrested in the two years since ICOI reported Monteilh to the FBI, and Niazi himself was only charged with lying in his immigration paperwork.
If nothing else, a giveaway that Monteilh's relationship to the FBI is quite likely minimal, is the fact that he claims the FBI suspected ICOI's leadership of recruiting militant Muslim students from UC Irvine and directing them to terrorist training camps in Pakistan. Monteilh made this claim to me when I interviewed him, but I omitted it because I was unable to get ICOI's response, and because I didn't believe a word of it. (I still don't).
Far from being a radical firebrand, Sadullah Khan is a well-respected moderate and World Cup soccer fan. A South African by birth, he struggled against apartheid with Nelson Mandela and since arriving in Irvine seven years ago, has built strong relationships with synagogues and Christian groups. Khan says he's saddened by the distrust that Monteilh's claims about ICOI has engendered. A recent example involved a white UC Irvine student who recently converted to Islam. A few older Muslims at the mosque asked Khan whether the kid might actually be an FBI mole. "This is reverse racism," he says. "And it's very embarrassing, quite frankly. It's very disappointing."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.