FBI Losing Partnership with American Muslim Community

February 25, 2009

The revelation yesterday that the FBI used paid informants and agent provocateurs in U.S. mosques who have participated in law enforcement outreach efforts undermines the decade long relationship that American Muslims have been building with law enforcement. This news sends a devastating message to community leaders and imams who have worked diligently to foster greater understanding between law enforcement and their communities.

The case of Ahmadullah Niazi in Tustin, CA brings to light evidence of an all too familiar trend in law enforcement activity within the American Muslim community.

In 2007, Niazi reported suspicious behavior by a new Muslim convert in his mosque, who he said was talking about jihad and suggested planning a terrorist attack in conversations with others at the Islamic Center of Irvine. He and a mosque official filed a report with the Los Angeles field office of the FBI. The FBI then told mosque officials that they were investigating the matter, and the mosque successfully got a three-year restraining order against the individual.

Niazi reported that FBI officials later contacted him to ask him to be a paid informant. When he refused, he said they threatened to make his life "a living hell." Niazi was arrested last week on charges related to lying on his immigration documents and was released yesterday on $500,000 bail.

Imagine the shock of mosque members yesterday, when FBI Special Agent Thomas J. Ropel III testified that the convert reported by Niazi was actually an FBI informant who had infiltrated several mosques in Orange County.

SEE: "Bail OK'd for Alleged In-Law of Al-Qaida Official" (Associated Press, Feb. 24)

In phone calls and meetings yesterday, MPAC Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati urged greater transparency by the FBI in their dealings with the Muslim community. Clearly, law enforcement has a crucial job to do in keeping our country safe. The American Muslim community and its national organizations have demonstrated time and again their consistent commitment to developing solutions that can protect America while also upholding privacy and civil liberties.

Law enforcement officials have a fundamental responsibility to communicate honestly about such cases in order to preserve the value of their dialogue, engagement and outreach efforts with communities impacted by the work.

Ironically, FBI Director Robert Mueller delivered a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday, in which he said in part:

"Too often, we run up against a wall between law enforcement and the community -- a wall based on myth and misperception of the work we do... Oftentimes, the communities from which we need the most help are those who trust us the least. But it is in these communities that we must re-double our efforts.

The simple truth is that we cannot do our jobs without the trust of the American people. And we cannot build that trust without reaching out to say, 'We are on your side. We stand ready to help.'"

Trust is the cornerstone of any partnership between law enforcement and communities. It can only be established and maintained through clear and open communication. Without this, trust is eroded and suspicions arise on all sides. This clearly does not serve anyone's interests.

Federal law enforcement cannot establish trust with American Muslim communities through meetings and townhall forums, while at the same time sending paid informants who instigate violent rhetoric in mosques. This mere act stigmatizes American mosques and casts a shadow of doubt and distrust between American Muslims and their neighbors. It has also led many mosques and community groups to reconsider their relationship with the FBI, including most recently the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.

It is now up to the FBI and law enforcement agencies to re-engage with the Muslim American community, and re-build trust and respect. MPAC will continue to raise these community concerns with federal law enforcement officials in its efforts to help form policies that preserve civil liberties while also protecting our nation.

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