Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2009
As they sipped tea and nibbled on dates, more than 100 men and women listened to a litany of speakers sounding the same message: The FBI is not your friend.
In the months and years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, FBI officials met privately with Muslim leaders, assuring them that a spate of hate crimes would be vigorously investigated and at the same time asking for help in the campaign against terrorism. Local leaders promised to encourage cooperation.
But even as relations warmed, a series of revelations–including allegations that the FBI sent an informant into a mosque in Orange County, surveilled community leaders and sent an agent to UC Irvine–caused some to begin questioning the FBI’s real intentions.
Now, the leaders of several Muslim organizations say they feel betrayed. Because Orange County has been at the center of many of the revelations, local leaders have taken a lead in challenging the FBI, but the issues are resonating nationwide.
On Sunday, a coalition of the nation’s largest Muslim organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Islamic Society of North America, issued a statement demanding that the Obama administration address FBI actions, including what they describe as the “infiltration of mosques,” the use of “agent provocateurs to trap unsuspecting Muslim youth” and the “deliberate vilification” of the council.
“It reached a level where we felt we had to do something,” said Agha Saeed, chairman of the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections. “The FBI is doing things which are not healthy. They are creating divisions and conflict, creating a totally negative, Islamophobic image of Muslims in America.”
Over the years, there’s been a gradual erosion of trust between the groups and the FBI. Months ago, the agency told local leaders it was suspending relations with the council, one of the largest Muslim civil rights groups in the country.
Since then, things have unraveled rapidly. Like other Muslim communities in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, many in Orange County–home to more than 100,000 Muslim Americans, dozens of mosques and several prominent Muslim community organizations–worried about FBI investigations.
The FBI, in turn, believed terrorists were either trying to get to Southern California to carry out attacks or were already here. To gain intelligence and demystify the agency’s operations, the FBI met with local leaders and formed a committee that met monthly.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations was named in 2007, along with hundreds of other organizations and individuals, as an unindicted co-conspirator in a case against the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation, which the government accused of funneling money to terrorists.
As a result, the FBI suspended relations with the council this year.