The Orange County Register
An Irvine man who claims to have worked as an FBI informant said he was asked by agents to identify photos of Middle Eastern men who worked out at Orange County gyms as part of an effort to identify terrorist cells in the U.S.
Craig Monteilh said he worked as an informant from July 2006 to October 2007. He said he identified hundreds of Middle Eastern men in pictures that appeared to be taken from surveillance footage from several O.C gyms. He said agents asked him to act as a "magnet" for members of the Muslim community - work out with them, and provide information, such as names and telephone numbers, to the FBI.
Agents were interested only in young Middle Eastern men, Monteilh said, and when a picture was identified as someone that was not, "they (pictures) were discarded," he said.
Officials at the FBI declined to address on specific allegations, saying they could not comment on investigative techniques or ongoing investigations, but said suggestions that the agency may be racially profiling an ethnic group were absurd and unfair.
"To suggest that the FBI targets individuals based on their ethnicity is beyond absurd, and can unfairly damage the reputation of a community," said Laura Eimiller, spokeswoman for the FBI. "Investigations are structured to protect the civil liberties of all, and are conducted with strict adherence to the Constitution."
Monteilh, 46, in February identified himself as an informant who used the name Farouk al-Aziz to infiltrate local mosques. He came forward shortly after a Tustin man was arrested on immigration-fraud charges – a man authorities claim lied about links to terrorist organizations and a brother-in-law suspected of being Osama bin Laden's security coordinator.
In a bail hearing for Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, Special Agent Thomas J. Ropel III said Niazi was recorded by an informant talking about blowing up buildings and taking up jihad. Ropel did not identify the informant.
Monteilh said he began identifying young men in pictures in November 2006 and continued to meet with agents, once a week for about nine months, identifying men in pictures from several gyms, particularly those in Irvine.
"Every week, twice a week sometimes, I'd be handed 80 to 120 photos of specifically Middle Eastern-looking men," Monteilh said. He would then write the name of the men in the back of the pictures, and hand over telephone numbers if he obtained them.
Monteilh, who worked as a fitness consultant, has been arrested for fraud and grand theft, including a case where he was convicted of conning two women out of more than $157,000.He said the FBI asked him to use his background as a trainer in local gyms to workout with Muslim men and provide information.
"I was told there were terrorist cells in Orange County and they were going to do everything possible to (identify) these terrorist cells," Monteilh said.
FBI TACTICS QUESTIONED
For months, members of Orange County's Muslim community have been calling into question the FBI's tactics. During a demonstration in May 2007, a confrontation between a student at UC Irvine and a FBI agent inside a car with tinted windows sparked several questions of whether the FBI was monitoring Muslim students.
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Council on Islamic American Relations, said he wouldn't be surprised if Monteilh's allegations of surveillance in OC gyms were true.
"Any normal activity, conducted by others, once it is conducted by Muslims, it's labeled suspicious," Ayloush said. "Many Muslims were questioned about suspicious activity, but the fact they were Muslim is what rendered these activities suspicious."
Having to circle an airport because of missing a terminal, taking pictures of tourist areas, hunting, paint ball, or "building muscles," are misconstrued as suspicious when conducted by someone who appears to be Middle Eastern, Ayloush said.
Monteilh said he had brought up concerns about racial profiling while he identified men in photos, but was told by one agent that, "little white old ladies didn't slam planes into buildings."
Adam Krowlikowsky, an attorney representing Monteilh, said he and his client also planned to file lawsuit against the agency for, "having suffered as a result of a violation of his rights as an individual and services he provided to the agency."
No written agreement was made between the FBI and Monteilh, the attorney said, but his client could be entitled to up to $10 million, he said. He declined to comment on whether he or Monteilh had been in contact with FBI officials regarding the claim.
Monteilh said he was paid between $6,000 and $11,200 a month by the FBI to work as an informant and was promised lump sump payment at the end of his work. He also said a 2008 conviction of grand theft was related to work he was conducting as an informant.
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