Months of deteriorating relationships between the FBI and major American Muslim organizations came to a head when revelations of a FBI informant posing as a convert in mosques became public in February 2009. The incident, combined with the FBI’s disengagement from communications with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), has lead several American Muslim advocacy groups to consider a suspension of ongoing outreach with the FBI. The growing tension was raised during a Senate hearing where FBI Director Robert Mueller was questioned about the Bureau’s conduct about investigating Muslim organizations.
Alleged FBI Informant at California Mosques
The activities of undercover FBI agents at California mosques were discovered during the February 2009 detention hearing of Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, a naturalized US citizen from Afghanistan, who is charged with making false statements to obtain his citizenship. According to Niazi, he was arrested because he refused to conduct secret spying operations on other worshippers for an FBI agent. Niazi said the agent told him to cooperate or the FBI would make his life a “living hell”.
During the detention hearing, Thomas Ropel, an FBI special agent, testified that an informant had gone undercover at Niazi’s mosque. It was later learned through media interviews that Craig Monteilh, a California resident with an extensive criminal background, admitted to having been the paid FBI informant. Monteilh, behaving as a recent convert to Islam, reportedly espoused a violent ideology with members of mosques across southern California. He claims to have recorded thousands of hours of conversations “between Muslims in their homes, restaurants and mosques in southern California.” The FBI would neither confirm nor deny that Monteilh was used to spy on California mosques.
Monteilh’s spying ended after Niazi and other members of the Islamic Centre of Irvine grew suspicious of him and contacted the authorities asking for a restraining order against him. The FBI then began to investigate Niazi and sought his services as an informant, according to the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections, which has formally filed a complaint with the FBI. His refusal led to his arrest on immigration issues. Niazi has pleaded not guilty to the charges. The spying has resulted in a “chilling effect” on worshippers at mosques and their donations. Many Muslims have decided to avoid attending public services and several mosques have reported a decline in zakat donations. (More)