Gregg Krupa / The Detroit News
The FBI has come under fire from Muslim leaders in Metro Detroit who say the agency is threatening or coercing local residents into informing on people in their communities and mosques.
The prospective informants, their lawyers and community leaders said the federal agents identify themselves and tell them their immigration status could be blocked or revoked if they turn down FBI requests to report on activities of people who attend mosques.
"Cooperation will not be gained through the twisting of arms," said Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "We have worked extensively with the FBI and others in the past, and certainly we would provide any information of a national security concern. But the issue now is this: Will they treat us as partners, or suspects, or both? We want to know."
Several Muslims agreed to talk to The Detroit News about their experiences, amid recent revelations about FBI activities. Those who say they were contacted to become informants express alarm at what they call intrusion in places of worship and private lives without reasonable cause. They say the federal initiative is bruising feelings and making Muslims fearful of cooperating with federal officials.
FBI officials say recruiting informants in the Muslim community is part of their work but add that agency rules strictly forbid unwarranted scrutiny, especially in houses of worship.
"We don't target mosques," said John Miller, an assistant FBI director. "We don't send people out on fishing expeditions. We investigate people ... and with probable cause to do so under the attorney general's guidelines."
Nevertheless, 44 Muslim groups nationally have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the tactics after it was revealed in February that an informant in California had been attempting to entrap Muslims into terrorist activities.
Last week, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting an investigation of the complaints in Michigan.
"The people they approach are usually the most vulnerable," said immigration and civil rights lawyer Nabih Ayad of Canton. "They usually have immigration issues, trying to get a green card, trying to get citizenship." Ayad said dozens of his clients have asked for his advice after being approached.
Meanwhile, some local Muslims are willing to describe how federal agents approached them.
• As he waited on tables in a Middle Eastern restaurant in Dearborn, a recent immigrant with a pending citizenship application told his story. "First, they asked me about my status in the country, why I am here, and what work I do," said the man, who asked for anonymity because he doesn't want to jeopardize his citizenship efforts.
"They said, 'We want you to work with us, and we'll help you with your (immigration) status.'
" ... But I feel I cannot be spying on my mosque or my neighbors. That is not right. That is not American," he said. "But a threat to my country, to the United States? My goodness, me and my family would run to them to alert them.
"... Now, my citizenship seems like it is permanently on hold, on hold, forever," he said. "I constantly worry, and I feel I have no life since they approached me."
• An immigrant student said an FBI agent exchanged cordial e-mails before asking her to inform on members of the Muslim Student Association on her campus.
She called the first contacts "friendly and interesting," but said the agent mentioned the status of "international students" and asked her to inform on her fellow students.
"I never responded to that request," she said. "I was offended and kind of mad, and I never got back to him."
• Two days after he was charged with a minor public nuisance violation, another recent immigrant with a pending application for citizenship said an FBI agent contacted him to suggest that if he became an informant the charge would "go away." The man said he would rather pay the fine and have a misdemeanor on his record than "spy" on his community.
Local Muslim and Arab leaders say aggressive tactics used by federal agents place at risk the carefully cultivated cooperation between their communities and law enforcement, which many on both sides consider essential to preserving national security.
Miller, of the FBI, said he could not comment on the specific circumstances of the Muslims who talked to The Detroit News because he did not know their names or the details of the investigations.
"I can tell you that we don't approach people like that unless there is a good reason, so I can assume there was," he said.
But Miller said he, too, is concerned about the relationship between American Muslims and law enforcement.
Officials of offices of the Department of Homeland Security did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Muslim leaders say they have no problem with anyone entering mosques and conducting investigations.
"But we cannot tolerate attempts to have our own community members spy on community members or agent provocateurs sent into mosques to entice people," said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Michigan.
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- Hussam Ayloush
- Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html