On the first Friday of each month, Mohammed Elsisy, an Egyptian-born software engineer, usually drives from his home in Irvine, Calif., to the King Fahad mosque in Culver City, Calif., to deliver the khutba, or sermon.

Elsisy thought the first Friday of this past June would be no different.

But little did he know something totally unexpected was about to happen that would make this particular Friday the most memorable for years to come.

Elsisy had two passengers in his car at the time.

In the back seat sat Ahmed Niazi, 33, a language teacher and a friend, while in the passenger seat sat a man who converted to Islam almost a year ago.

The man was 44-year-old Craig Monteilh, but he went by the name “Farouk Aziz.”

“Monteilh started talking about the Iraq war,” Niazi said. “He went off on a rant against U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.”

But then, out of the blue, Monteilh said something that sent chills down the spines of his companions.

He asked Elsisy and Niazi if they knew of an “operation” he could be part of.

Pin-drop silence followed. Elsisy’s eyes bounced over to the rearview mirror and traded a horrified glance with Niazi.

“Blood froze up in our veins,” Elsisy recalls.

Exactly a year earlier, Monteilh had walked into the Islamic Center of Irvine and declared his intention to embrace Islam.

Issa Edah-Tally, president of the center, said Monteilh, known only as Farouk then, was just another convert among many who took Shahada, or declaration of faith, at the center and became regulars at the mosque.

“We don’t ask people for their real names and don’t keep track of who attends prayer service,” Edah-Tally said.


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