FBI Spying on Mosques Draws Senate Attention; Rights Workshop Helps Local Muslims Deal With the Feds

A Senate Judiciary Committee questioned FBI Director Robert Mueller Wednesday about a Muslim coalition's consideration of breaking ties with the bureau following the highly publicized federal government spying on an Irvine mosque.

Meanwhile, a workshop has been organized for this Sunday to help local American Muslims deal with this frightening new twist in the “Global War on Terror.” Details on that in a bit. 

First, as mentioned here last week, the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT), a coalition of major national Islamic organizations, announced they were considering suspending outreach relations with the FBI over recent incidents in which American mosques and Muslim groups have been targeted. “In California, the FBI sent a convicted criminal to pose as an agent
provocateur in several of that state's mosques,” read the statement. “An FBI agent allegedly
told one of the mosque attendees that the agency would make his life a
'living hell' if he did not become an informant.”

The mosque attendee is 34-year-old Afghan native Ahmad Niazi,
who was arrested at his Tustin home on Feb. 20 on five fraud and
perjury counts. Irvine fitness instructor Craig Monteilh has identified himself as the informant. The FBI has remained mum. The Orange County Register and Christian Science Monitor have editorialized against the spying.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) told Mueller he was “disappointed” to learn of the AMT statement in light of recent discussions urging “the FBI to gain the trust of the American Muslim community to assist in the effort to stop terrorism.”

Reading from a news report where AMT claims the FBI has pressured
Muslims to become informants, labeled civil rights advocates as
criminals and spread misinformation, Feingold had a question for
Mueller: “Can you determine and report to this committee whether
mosques have been entered by FBI agents or informants without
disclosing their identities under the authority of the attorney general
guidelines and, if so, how many?”

(New Justice Department
guidelines that took effect in
December have lowered the threshold for beginning FBI investigations,
allowing race and ethnicity to be factors in opening a probe. The ACLU
has a fact sheet on the guidelines here.)

Mueller: “I will say that we do not focus on institutions, we focus on
individuals. And I will say generally if there is evidence or
information as to individual or individuals undertaking illegal
activities in religious institutions, with appropriate high-level
approval, we would undertake investigative activities, regardless of
the religion. But it would — we would single that out as an
exceptionally sensitive circumstance that would require much vetting
before that occurred…”

Feingold then asked if the new attorney
general guidelines are helping or hurting the FBI's relationship with
the U.S. Muslim community, and what the bureau plans to do in light of
the AMT statement to improve relations. Mueller responded that his
“expectation is that our relationships are as good now as before the
guidelines” and he added that the Muslim community “has been
tremendously supportive and worked very closely with [the FBI] in a
number of instances around the country.”
The souring
relationship between the federal government and American Muslims
prompted various groups to sponsor Sunday's workshop aimed at reminding
local followers of Islam “of their civil and civic resposibilities.”
The “Know Your Rights” workshop — sponsored by the Council on
American-Islamic Relations Greater Los Angeles Area Chapter (CAIR-LA),
the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, Muslim Public Affairs
Council and Muslim American Society West — begins at 5:15 p.m. at the
Islamic Institute of Orange County, 1220 N. State College Blvd.,

Speakers include Jim Lafferty, director of the National Lawyers Guild–Los Angeles; Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR-LA; Shakeel Syed, director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California; and Imam Abdul Karim Hasan.

Phone (714) 776-1847 for more information.

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