…Monteilh said his assignment was to infiltrate mosques in Irvine, Tustin, Anaheim, Culver City, West Covina and San Pedro. His contact on the outside was an "FBI Agent Armstrong." Monteilh was certain others were sent to infiltrate Southern California mosques as well.
He arrived at the Islamic Center of Irvine in 2006 and befriended members, using the name Farouk Aziz, always wearing robes and, though he has no facial hair now, growing a long beard. "The imams and sheiks wanted me to go to Cairo University and learn for the Americans," he said.
But about a year in, an incident he would not describe--other than saying it was unrelated to what he was doing at the mosque --caused people he'd been spying on to wonder about him. To test their suspicions, these mosque members went to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), whose California office is in Anaheim. The Muslim education and human rights group in turn contacted Irvine Police and the FBI to say Farouk Aziz was spreading "jihad" talk around the mosque, which eventually got a restraining order against him.
In press reports at the time, the FBI would neither confirm nor deny an investigation was under way at the Islamic Center.
The August 2007 issue of InFocus, the Southern California Muslim news source, included the story, "Is Big Brother At Your Mosque?" Reporter Abdussalam Mohamed named Niazi as one of the young Muslims who turned in Monteilh. It is actually comical, according to the story, how Niazi figured out the supposed convert might not be who he had claimed to be: Monteilh wrote his real name instead of his fake one on the roll of an Arab language class Niazi taught.
Monteilh told me the InFocus story led to death threats from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and someone in Irvine with ties to the Taliban.
"They ruined my reputation," he said. "I need to be known for what I did. They have me as a terrorist or a potential terrorist. The Islamic community has a restraining order against me because of my 'jihadist views.' I was carrying out a direct order."
He claimed the people he was investigating blew his cover to protect themselves. That's the same argument Ropel used in court Tuesday. The agent acknowledged that Niazi and others at his mosque came forward to turn in a convert who "was scary to them," but that the bureau believed Niazi figured out the convert was an informant and filed the report to protect himself.
If Monteilh's tale did not cause the hairs on the back of your neck to stiffen, just Google his name. Like a Christmas tree, the Internet light up with stories of him being a conman, a gold digger, something of a nut and possibly a government informant--with a criminal record extending back to 1987, with charges ranging from forgery to burglary and grand theft. His Orange County rap sheet alone includes 18 charges between January 2006 and November 2007. But here is the strange part: all but two were dismissed, on the same day…
When we met, Monteilh suggested I contact Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Anaheim CAIR office, which I did.
"I have never trusted Monteilh," Ayloush told me. "He is very suspicious."
I explained the source of his suspicion had told me it was in the FBI's best interest and CAIR's best interest if Monteilh was portrayed as a crook.
"I can see why it is in the FBI's best interest to have him be seen as a con man rather than an informant," Ayloush said, "but I am not sure what he meant with it being in CAIR's best interest."
It is, Monteilh claimed, so CAIR can protect Muslims like Niazi.
"That's interesting," Ayloush responded. "From what was reported to us, a few young Muslims hung around him and held discussions about hot political topics. At the moment he talked about actually committing violence, they called the police on him and asked me to call the FBI on their behalf, which I did. The FBI did not show any interest in taking action, which told me he was an informant--more like a provocateur." (MORE)