By SALVADOR HERNANDEZ
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Inside a federal courtroom nearly 16 months ago, prosecutors asked a judge to hold Ahmadullah Sais Niazi in federal prison without bail, arguing that the Tustin man had links to extremist organizations, was a flight risk and a danger to the community.
Though Niazi faces immigration, not terrorism-related charges, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dierdre Eliot argued in February 2009 that Niazi had ties to terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, the Taliban. Also, Niazi's brother-in-law is believed to be a security coordinator for Osama bin Laden, according to prosecutors.
But as the date nears for Niazi's trial this year, the U.S. Attorney's Office and Niazi's defense attorney jointly request a judge to loosen the terms of Niazi's release, asking the court to lift its order keeping Niazi under house arrest. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney granted the request, allowing Niazi to leave his home under GPS monitoring and a curfew of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The U.S. Attorney office's request stands in sharp contrast to its earlier petition, which stressed Niazi's alleged Islamic-extremist views and ties. Those views were recorded by a man working as an FBI informant, prosecutors have said. Niazi is charged with lying about those ties, including two counts of perjury, one count of lying in his citizen application, one count of lying in his passport application and one count of making a false statement.
Chase Scolnick, the deputy public defender representing Niazi, said his client has been following the terms of his release. He declined to comment on the details of the case.
Craig Monteilh, an Irvine resident, has said in previous interviews he was paid by the FBI to be an informant in the case as part of an operation by the Orange County Joint Terrorism Task Force called "Operation Flex." Court documents and probation records sustain the claim he worked as an informant for the FBI.
Monteilh, who was convicted in 2008 for grand theft, has filed a suit against the FBI. Monteilh claims the FBI violated his civil liberties while he was working as an informant. That case is pending in court.
Monteilh, his attorney Adam Krowlikowsky and Scolnick have confirmed they have met on multiple occasions to discuss Niazi's case, but would not provide details.
During Niazi's bail hearing in February 2009, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Nakazato cited several concerns, but agreed set bail at $500,000. Nakazato required that at least two relatives be financially responsible for Niazi's bail and that he be under electronic surveillance and house arrest.
In an order signed on June 2, Niazi's home confinement was lifted. His trial is expected to begin Aug. 31.
The case has reverberated in the county's Muslim community, as details surfaced of FBI surveillance in the area and Monteilh's alleged involvement in domestic surveillance.
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in an earlier interview that Niazi, who had been under FBI surveillance since 2006, had come to him because the FBI was attempting to recruit him as an informant. Ayloush suggested the case against Niazi may have been brought in retaliation for his refusal.
Federal prosecutor Denise Willett, who signed the request to change the terms of release for Niazi, did not return calls for comment.
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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