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

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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.)

Replied 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., Anaheim.

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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