Friday, 10 April, 2009

Muslims fear FBI is spying in mosques

By Dan Herbeck

A coalition of Muslim-American groups claims the FBI has been planting counter terrorism spies in mosques in some U. S. cities. Last month, 10 Muslim-American organizations threatened to stop working with the FBI on outreach efforts in the Muslim-American community.

Dr. Khalid J. Qazi, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York, said he is concerned about the situation and hopes the FBI provides some answers soon.

“[Muslims] are asking questions, wondering if there are moles spying on mosques throughout the country,” Qazi told The Buffalo News. “People ask me about it, and I have to tell them the honest truth — that I don’t know if it’s happening.”

The controversy has been growing among Muslim-Americans since February, when an Irvine, Calif., fitness instructor named Craig Monteilh told reporters that the FBI paid him to infiltrate mosques in several communities in Southern California during an investigation conducted in 2006-07.

Monteilh, a former convict, told the Associated Press that FBI agents had picked him up every morning for two weeks and took him to a building in Los Angeles where he learned some Arabic and learned about Islam. After that, he said, he infiltrated several mosques as an FBI informer.

He claimed that Ahmadullah Niazi, 34, of Irvine, offered to help Monteilh attend a terrorist training camp in Yemen or Afghanistan. Niazi was charged last month with perjury, misuse of a passport and other federal crimes. The FBI alleged that he is related to a bodyguard for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

So far, the FBI has refused to confirm or deny reports that Monteilh had been hired to infiltrate mosques.

Qazi said the lack of a public explanation by the FBI is a concern to him and other American Muslim leaders who have been working with law enforcement agencies since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In January 2007, Qazi’s organization received a community leadership award from the FBI for maintaining a dialogue with law enforcement and for organizing public meetings on airline profiling, border policies and other issues.

“Those of us who are working proactively with law enforcement, the FBI needs to give us a reason for what happened in this case in California,” Qazi said. “So far, they are giving us no explanation, so we have nothing to tell people in our own community about what happened.”

Last month, the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections accused the FBI of “McCarthy-era tactics” that are “detrimental to a free society.” Qazi is a board member of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which is part of the task force.

He said the Muslim Public Affairs Council asked the national FBI office last month for an explanation of what happened in the California case but so far has not received one.

Have federal agents ever infiltrated any mosque in Western New York?

Qazi said he does not know. “I think people in any religious faith would be upset if they felt they were being spied upon,” Qazi said.

Daniel Bodony, a Buffalo FBI spokesman, said he could not comment on the California case. But he said he was not aware of the Buffalo FBI office ever sending informers into a mosque, church or any other religious institution.

“Unless there was some specific criminal activity that we were investigating, which was going on inside the mosque or church, it is something we would avoid at almost all costs,” Bodony said. “We would never send informants or undercover agents into a mosque or church just to fish for information, or to infringe on any person’s First Amendment rights.”

But one law enforcement expert said the FBI might have legitimate cause to investigate activities at a religious institution.

“If they had information about someone at a mosque or church being involved with terrorism, they would have an obligation to investigate,” said Robert Heibel, director of the Institute for Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa.

Heibel, a retired FBI agent, noted that a man who spoke at a Lackawanna mosque was one of the main recruiters of the “Lackawanna Six,” the men who wound up in prison for taking part in an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan.

In 1995, Sheik Omar Abdel- Rahman, a Muslim cleric from New York City, was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to destroy the U. N. building and other landmarks in that city.

Prosecutions also have targeted racist criminal gangs tied to churches, Heibel noted.

“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.”

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