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FBI and American Muslims at odds

An informant at a California mosque has hampered efforts to find home-grown terrorists.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 25, 2009

FBI Informant: Craig Monteilh says he infiltrated southern California mosques on behalf of the FBI. But he insists that he did not promote terrorist activities, as some Muslim American groups charge.

Reed Saxon/AP

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Law enforcement efforts to root out home-grown terrorists are jeopardized by deteriorating relations between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Muslim and Arab-American communities.

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The situation began last fall when the FBI quietly withdrew formal relations with all local chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), one of the largest Muslim American civil rights organizations. The FBI cited "a number of distinct narrow issues" that it has refused to make public.

The situation worsened in February, when it became public that the FBI had planted an informant at a California mosque who, a coalition of more than a dozen Muslim American groups charges, actively tried to recruit terrorists.

Last week, the coalition accused the FBI of engaging in "McCarthy-era tactics" and announced it was considering suspending all ties with the FBI unless it made public its concerns with CAIR and "reassessed its use of agent provocateurs in Muslim communities."

The FBI would not comment, except to issue a statement saying: "Limiting honest dialogue, especially when complex issues are on the table, is generally not an effective advocacy strategy."

That has not satisfied many in the Muslim and Arab-American communities, including some who have not joined the coalition threatening to terminate FBI ties.

"We believe that we have to keep our place at the table in this discourse. We believe it's too important for our community's interest and America's interest to leave the table," says Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles. "But the damage was done [when the FBI planted the agent].... The way the FBI handled the case stigmatized the whole mosque community, and the disengagement from CAIR field offices was a mistake because people don't understand it – there's no explanation."

In the aftermath of 9/11, the FBI made an aggressive effort to reach out to Muslim and Arab-American organizations throughout the country. In general, the effort was viewed as a success by all parties.

Relations had been good

On its website, CAIR lists dozens of laudatory quotes from FBI officials they cooperated with since the attacks. FBI officials regularly attended their banquets, mosques and community outreach efforts.

CAIR officials said the FBI's decision to sever formal ties with its 30 field offices in 19 states came as a shock.

"Historically, we've had very good relations with the FBI at the local, state, and federal levels," says CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

The FBI declined to say what "distinct narrow issues" had prompted it to suddenly sever ties with CAIR. But in a statement, FBI spokesman John Miller said, "We have made CAIR's national leadership aware of these issues."

CAIR's Mr. Hooper says that is not the case.

"They have not communicated specific issues to us, and when we ask, they say, 'Well, let's have some future conversation about it'," says Hooper. "And we say, 'No, we'd like to know now.'"

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