Muslim advocacy groups sued the FBI and the Department of Justice for failing to turn over records they requested on surveillance in the Muslim-American community.
The complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana alleges the FBI only turned over four pages in a response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request the community leaders made more than a year ago. The documents were not related to surveillance.
The FOIA request sought records that described the FBI’s guidelines and policies for surveillance and investigation of Muslim religious organizations. It also sought specific information about FBI inquiries targeting 11 different groups or individuals.
The lawsuit states that all the plaintiffs — who include some of the most prominent Muslim leaders in California — have reason to believe they have been investigated by the FBI in recent years. The FOIA, a federal law which can provide individuals with access to information about the operation of federal agencies, requested documents dating back to January 2001. . .
The FBI responded to the FOIA first by saying it couldn’t identify any records that met the criteria requested. After an appeal, the agency turned over four pages that dealt with the Council of American-Islamic Relations and Hussam Ayloush, CAIR’s executive director for Southern California.
Those documents dealt with an alleged hate crime at a mosque that CAIR had reported to the FBI and a conversation that Ayloush had with an FBI agent about cooperating with federal law enforcement, said Ranjana Natarajan, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Natarajan said she believes there are many more records because all of the individual plaintiffs have been interviewed by the FBI or stopped at airports for questioning. She said the FBI, in its responses, indicated it searched only files that hold information on active criminal investigations instead of more general files that could encompass surveillance activities.
Ayloush, who says he is questioned by federal agents every time he flies internationally, said he had hoped the FOIA request would help him determine why he’s stopped.
“Either … we’re being stopped because we’re Muslims — which is morally wrong — or that the government must have some erroneous info linked to me that I need to be able to clear,” he said. “The only way I can access that information is by filing this FOIA.” (MORE)