If two coalitions of Muslim organizations have their way, the FBI may soon face a more difficult time monitoring mosques with suspected ties to Islamic radicalism and terrorism.
The American Muslim Taskforce (AMT) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) are calling for an end to the FBI’s use of informants in mosques, closing the only window that law enforcement has into what goes on behind closed doors. The condemnation of the FBI is coupled with a threat to end all outreach programs with the agency.
“If the FBI does not accord fair and equitable treatment to every American Muslim…then Muslim organizations, mosques and individuals will have no choice but consider suspending all outreach activities with FBI offices, agents and other personnel,” reads a March 17 statement from the AMT.
Although the AMT assures that this does not mean that its member groups will decline to report criminal and terrorist activity to the agency, allegations of anti-Muslim bias at the FBI will likely deter some Muslims from doing so. This is all the more troubling because these allegations, stemming from a recent case involving an FBI informant, are ill-founded.
The controversy concerns the FBI’s use of Craig Monteilh, a fitness instructor with a criminal past, as an informant in a California mosque. Monteilh recorded Ahmadullah Niazi, an Afghani-American Muslim who attended the mosque, making incriminating statements about possible terrorist attacks. Monteilh, posing as one “Farouk Al-Aziz,” was befriended by Niazi at the Islamic Center of Irvine, California, in November 2006. Monteilh says that Niazi then began trying to “radicalize” him.
“We talked about plans to carry out operations in the U.S.,” Monteilh said of his conversations with Niazi. “He was going to set up a time for me to go to a terror training camp in Yemen or Pakistan.” Niazi is also said to have described Osama Bin Laden as an “angel” and Monteilh claims that Niazi boasted about greeting the terrorist chieftain when Bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan in 1996 after being expelled from Sudan.
Niazi was arrested on February 20 on charges of immigration fraud. Specifically, he is accused of lying about his family’s ties to al-Qaeda; of lying about a 2005 trip to Pakistan, where he is believed to have met with his brother-in-law, Amin al-Haq, one of Osama Bin Laden’s bodyguards and security coordinators, who and had his assets frozen by the Treasury Department on October 12, 2001; and of lying to obtain a U.S. passport and citizenship. He’s also being accused of ties to the Taliban and the Hezb-e-Islami terrorist organization, the founder of which has been associated with al-Haq.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Deirdre Eliot has testified that a search of Niazi’s home found evidence that he was sympathetic to terrorist organizations and had contact with known terrorists. She said that his computer and financial records showed he had sent at least $16,400 to people in Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent years, including family members, using “hawala,” an unregulated system used to send money internationally.
The most damning evidence against Niazi comes from his own statements. FBI Special Agent Thomas J. Ropel III testified at Niazi’s February 24 bail hearing that he was recorded talking about blowing up abandoned buildings. Ropel said that Niazi lied to the FBI when he claimed to have spoken only once or twice to Montielh about jihad, even though the recordings show that Niazi initiated at least 20 conversations about carrying out terrorism attacks.
None of these facts about Niazi’s links to Islamic extremists appeared in the statements of AMT or MPAC. Instead, they focus on Niazi’s claim that an FBI agent demanded that he become an informant, warning that he’d make his life “a living hell” if he didn’t agree. His arrest stems from his refusal to spy on his fellow Muslims, he and his defenders allege.
They also take aim at Monteilh, who, they claim, the FBI paid to “instigate violent rhetoric in mosques.” Niazi and an official from the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported Monteilh, then posing as a Muslim, to law enforcement, saying that he had suspicious behavior and discussed carrying out terrorism. They successfully pursued a restraining order against him. While Niazi and his defenders claim he was being a pro-active citizen combating potential terrorists, Orange County News reported that at Niazi’s bail hearing, FBI Agent Ropel “acknowledged their suspect came forward to turn in a convert who ‘was scary,’ but the bureau believed Niazi figured out the convert was an informant and filed the report to protect himself.”
Monteilh’s criminal history is being used by the organization to discredit him and the FBI. The Orange County News reported on March 4 that “His criminal record extends back to 1987, with charges ranging from forgery to burglary and grand theft. His Orange County rap sheet alone includes charges for 18 separate crimes allegedly committed between January 2006 and November 2007. But here is the strange part: all but two were dismissed on the same day.” Monteilh says that it was his time in jail that led to him becoming an informant, as he developed relationships with members of Aryan Brotherhood prison gangs. Regardless of Monteilh’s criminal past, the fact remains that he recorded Niazi expressing support for terrorism and that the FBI felt confident enough to have an agent testify against him at the bail hearing.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the AMT charges that the government is motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment and paranoia, describing the FBI’s tactics as “McCarthy-era.” “Bias and faulty premises dominated post-9/11 law enforcement analysis of the Muslim community…The waning days of the previous administration witnessed a flourishing of anti-Muslim activity,” their statement reads. The AMT, while claiming it exists to “defend [the] civil and human rights of all,” showed its true colors when their statement also condemned the federal government’s designation of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America, and the North-American Islamic Trust as “unindicted co-conspirators” in the terrorism financing trial of The Holy Land Foundation. The HLF was a front for Hamas that posed as a Muslim charity. The organization and five of its officials were found guilty in November of financing the terrorist group with $12 million.
The AMT’s opposition to this designation is not surprising, considering that CAIR is listed as being part of their coalition and ISNA is listed as an “observer organization.” Other members of AMT include the Islamic Circle of North America, the Muslim Students Association, and the Muslim-American Society, all part and parcel of the Muslim Brotherhood. The AMT also lists the Muslim Public Affairs Council, its partner in threatening to end outreach programs with the FBI, as an “observer organization.” MPAC’s former political director, Mahdi Bray, has quite the criminal record and even traveled to Egypt to express his solidarity with Muslim Brotherhood in February 2008. Bray is now the political director of the aforementioned Muslim-American Society.
This background casts doubt on the attacks on the FBI’s use of informants. Far from an expression of outrage felt by the entire American Muslim community, it is a manufactured controversy sparked by the Muslim Brotherhood’s partners, who have consistently denounced efforts to fight terrorism and Islamic extremism as acts of anti-Muslim bigotry.