In Bay Area, a Fragile Relationship Between Muslims and the F.B.I.

Early one morning in 2007, Muhammad Chaudhry showed up at the Islamic Center of East Bay in Antioch, Calif., and found seven bullet holes in one of the building’s front windows.

Soon, agents from the San Francisco office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrived and documented it and previous incidents at the center. In 2005, someone had left messages including “racial slurs” on the center’s answering machine, the agents wrote. In 2006, a single shot had damaged a window; a few months later, the same window was destroyed with a brick.

In a report written three weeks after the shots were fired, and obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, an agent wrote that no investigation would continue “since there is no current evidence to show this incident as being a hate crime.”

Six months later, arson gutted the center. F.B.I. agents opened an investigation, but members of the center wondered whether the fire could have been prevented if the agency had pursued the fusillade that preceded it.

Although the F.B.I. requires that agents examine all such claims, not all result in a full investigation. Some lack dependable evidence, and agents may determine that others do not include hate-crime components as defined by federal law. Ms. Sohn said that it could be hard to find proof of intent, a key element in demonstrating that a hate crime took place.

Also troubling, Mr. German said, was the decision not to start a hate-crime investigation after shots were fired at the Islamic Center of East Bay, given the escalating nature of the attacks there. An investigation, he said, could have solved or deterred crimes and helped foster trust between the F.B.I. and the center.

“Here was an opportunity to do something to protect the community,” Mr. German said. “There is concern in the community that the F.B.I. is viewing them through only one lens, as potential suspects.”