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Local Muslims outraged by alleged FBI surveillance, lawyers claim

February 23, 2011 |  1:13 pm

An alleged FBI operation that conducted illegal surveillance of local mosques caused outrage in the Muslim community and prompted a class-action lawsuit against the agency, lawyers said Wednesday.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of three plaintiffs accuses 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.

It was filed by the ACLU and the Council on Islamic American Relations, which held a news conference Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles.

The informant, Craig Monteilh of Irvine, went public in 2009 with his alleged work for the FBI. He has said he was recruited shortly after his release from prison for forgery to work on drug trafficking cases and was subsequently tasked in 2006 with rooting out potential terrorists in the Muslim community.

One of the plaintiffs, Ali Malik, 26, said he initially befriended Monteilh in 2006 shortly after the man converted to Islam at his mosque, the Islamic Center of Irvine.

Malik said he was asked to guide Monteilh in the basic tenets of his new faith but became increasingly uncomfortable as Monteilh's behavior and questions became increasingly bizarre -- at one point asking how the imam would react to someone interested in becoming a suicide bomber in the name of Islam.

"I told him it was in no way justified in the religion and the imam would think he was crazy," Malik said. "Then he began acting really weird and I started avoiding him at all costs."

Lawyers for the ACLU and the Islamic council's Los Angeles branch said the alleged FBI operation has prompted anger and fear in Muslim community and damaged trust in the government.

"Some members have stopped going to mosques because they feel like they can be labeled as extremists simply by going," said council lawyer Ameena Mirza Qazi. "That feeling of community is gone."

Malik, who is a U.S. citizen, said he has been contacted several times by the FBI since his interactions with Montheilh and has sharply curtailed his visits to his mosque out of unease.

"This has affected how the mosque welcomes new members," he said. "Every new person, people think 'Could he be with the FBI?' "

"You want to develop trust with the government and they have soured that trust," he said. "It's going to take a long time to rebuild that relationship."


Lawsuit contends FBI violated rights of hundreds of Muslim Americans

-- Shan Li