Muslim leaders from the Inland area and elsewhere in Southern California filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI on Monday seeking information about government monitoring of local Muslims and mosques.
The request, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in Los Angeles and Washington, was not prompted by a specific incident, said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, an organization of mosques.
However, a number of Muslims in the past three years — including a Riverside man — have been detained or questioned by local law enforcement or immigration officials, adding to the community’s sense of unease, Syed said.
“We suspect that phones have been tapped, but none of us know,” Syed said.
J. Stephen Tidwell, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said the agency will address the request. He said in an e-mail to the Press-Enterprise that the FBI “does not investigate anyone based on their lawful activities, religious or political beliefs.”
Federal law requires an agency to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests within 20 business days.
Corona resident Hussam Ayloush, who is one of those seeking information about government monitoring of himself, said he and his family have been interrogated at the border when returning from vacations in Canada and Mexico. Ayloush is executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Ayloush said the questions suggested he was suspected of links to terrorism or the interrogators had incorrect information about him and his family. He said his wife was asked where they met, if she had been a Muslim before they met and why they had married.
“I think every American, Muslim or otherwise, should request full transparency and accountability from their government and nothing less,” Ayloush said. “It’s the only way to prevent abuse of power.”
The government reported in 2004 that more than 5,000 immigrants, all of them Arabs or Muslims, had been detained, but did not say how many remained in custody. Muslim activists have said about one-third were deported for immigration violations. The status of the others remains unclear.
Most complaints of area Muslims to the Council on American Islamic Relations about government abuses involve homeland security or immigration officials, not the FBI, Ayloush said
“The FBI has been much more receptive to our concerns and has responded to some things,” he said. “DHS and customs enforcement act as if they don’t owe any accountability.”