The ACLU and the Council on Islamic American Relations, held a news conference Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles to announce a lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of three plaintiffs. They accuse the FBI and seven employees of infringing on the 1st and 4th amendment rights of hundreds of members of the local Muslim community by using paid informants to infiltrate mosques and record interactions with its members. They claim that the FBI informant, Craig Monteilh, violated members’ civil rights and subjected them to “indiscriminate surveillance” because of their religion.
For over 14 months between 2006 and 2007, FBI agents planted an informant (Mr Monteilh) in Orange County mosques who posed as a convert to Islam and through whom the FBI collected names, telephone numbers, e-mails, and other information on hundreds of California Muslims. Sheikh Yassir Fazaga, Ali Malik, and Yassir AbdelRahim – plaintiffs in the case-are three of the many individuals who came in contact with the bureau’s informant.
F.B.I. officials said that they could not comment on the lawsuit, but that they based any investigation on allegations of criminal activity. They said that they did not single out specific religious or ethnic groups.
Mr. Monteilh has also sued the F.B.I., saying that it failed to protect him from charges of grand theft that he says were related to his work in a drug-ring operation. The class-action lawsuit seeks a court order for the F.B.I. to destroy or return the information Mr. Monteilh obtained.
Muslim-American groups are accusing the FBI of planting moles in mosques across the U.S.
Suspicions amongst Muslims have risen greatly since February, when Craig Monteilh publicly stated the FBI had used him to infiltrate mosques and spy on Muslims in Orange County, California. The FBI has not responded to Monteilh’s story, which leads many Muslims to believe it is true and that he may not be the FBI’s only spy.
Monteilh stated he was offered to attend a terrorist training camp in Yemen or Afghanistan by Ahmadullah Niazi of Irvine. Niazi was charged with misusing a passport, perjury, and other federal crimes last month, and has been accused of being related to a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.
The American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) has a history of working proactively with the FBI in reducing the risks of radicalism, and are thus concerned at the FBI’s lack of explanation to them and other Muslim leaders on whether this actually happened and if so, why.
While law enforcement agents at the FBI won’t comment specifically on the California case, Robert Heibel, director of the Institute for Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa. says “if they had information about someone at a mosque or church being involved with terrorism, they would have an obligation to investigate. Should the FBI give attention to potentially dangerous religious extremists?” Heibel said. “In a case like that, the agents aren’t targeting a religion. They’re targeting a potential lawbreaker.”