Lawsuit Alleges FBI Informant Used Indiscriminate Surveillance At California Mosques

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Date: 
February 27, 2011

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) violated the First Amendment rights of hundreds of Muslim Americans by using a former convict to infiltrate several California mosques, says a lawsuit filed on Feb. 22, 2011. The lawsuit alleges Muslim Americans were targeted by the FBI solely for their religious beliefs, and this conduct adversely affected their community and religious donations.   Filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California and Council on American-Islamic Relations Los Angeles office on behalf of three plaintiffs, the suit seeks unspecified damages and the destruction or return of information the FBI collected. 

According to the lawsuit, between 2006-2007 the FBI hired and paid Craig Monteilh to spy on members of the Islamic Center of Irvine and other Southern California mosques. He was told by FBI agents “that Islam was a threat to America's national security,” and to collect e-mail address, phone numbers, and other pertinent information about mosque members. Using the alias Farouk al-Aziz, he regularly attended services and events to collect the information and record conversations he had with mosque members in their homes and other places.

After news about the spying became public, several mosques reported that members began avoiding public services and there was a decrease in religious donations. “This had a chilling effect on the Muslim community,” said Nura Maznavi, a lawyer for Muslim Advocates. “The FBI sent in someone with a criminal background to incite individuals in a place of worship. As a result people didn’t want to come to the mosque and pray.” 
 
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said she could not comment on pending litigation but emphasized that the FBI does not target religious groups or individuals based on their religion. "Any investigation would be based on allegations of criminal activity," she said.
 
However, guidelines that oversee the FBI’s surveillance operations were amended in 2008 to permit the monitoring of individuals or groups without evidence of wrong-doing. For more information about these guidelines, click here

Information collected by Monteilh led to a single case against an Irvine mosque member. Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, a naturalized US citizen from Afghanistan, was charged with making false statements to obtain his citizenship. The charge was eventually dismissed.