FBI tactics against Muslims questioned
Muslim leaders are calling on the Department of Justice to look into the FBI's handling of an investigation against a Tustin man who once faced immigration charges and accusations of being a terrorist sympathizer.
Charges against Ahmadullah Sais Niazi have been dismissed and now Muslim leaders want authorities to look into how FBI agents handled the three-year long investigation against the Afghan native.
Niazi did not face terrorism-related charges but prosecutors asserted in court he had ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban. His sister's husband was said to be security coordinator to Osama bin Laden and authorities alleged Niazi lied in passport and naturalization papers to hide those links.
Since Niazi's arrest in Feb. 2009, not only have charges been dropped but details into the FBI's investigations in the Muslim community have surfaced. They include the use of paid informants in local mosques, and allegations that agents sought to identify Muslims captured on surveillance video in local gyms.
"While some may not be true, I think a great deal of it is," Chase Scolnick, Niazi's public defender, said.
Niazi's supporters say the case highlights abuses by federal and local authorities, who allegedly tried to prosecute the Tustin resident on immigration charges after he refused to become an informant.
"I honestly expected most charges to be dropped," said Hussam Ayloush, director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "From the beginning I knew the circumstances surrounding the case were a combination of entrapment and retaliation."
Last week, federal prosecutors moved to dismiss all immigration-related charges against Niazi, and U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney tossed the case out of federal court.
Prosecutors cited "evidentiary issues" and a witness who was out of the country as the reason for the dismissal. The case had lingered in court without proceeding to the trial phase for 20 months.
Scolnick argued Niazi had become the target of FBI agents after refusing to become an informant. Niazi and a second man had also approached FBI officials regarding a man who had espoused violent views, but that man – Craig Monteilh – was later revealed to be an informant for the FBI.
Scolnick said part of the reason for the dismissal was the methods used in the investigation -- much of which came to light when Monteilh went public.
"I begged, pushed and prodded the Department of Justice to live up to its name," Scolnick said. "I don't think they wanted to stand behind the investigative tactics that were used."
Monteilh has since sued the FBI for allegedly violating his civil liberties while he worked as an informant, and he cooperated with Scolnick during Niazi's immigration case. That case is still pending.
FBI officials would not comment specifically on Niazi's case, but in response to allegations that agents unlawfully pressure members of the Muslim community officials issued a written statement that said: "The Attorney General's guidelines by which FBI agents must abide are very clear that the FBI initiates investigations based on allegations of criminal activity and cannot initiate investigations solely on religion, race, or ethnicity. To suggest otherwise would be unfair to the Muslim-American community and to the agents that conduct investigations lawfully."
Tactics used to pressure members of the Muslim community are not uncommon, Ayloush said.
"Current FBI guidelines permit the FBI to treat the Muslim community with such disregard," he said. "It's a moral and shameful waste of their resources."
Ayloush said he believed Niazi's case stemmed from the FBI's "exaggerating successes," and personal egos within the FBI.
"Someone was upset all this money (used in the investigation) was exposed," Ayloush said.
Since charges were dismissed, Scolnick said his client, "was thrilled."
"Imagine the living hell he's been going through," he said. Since he was arrested, Niazi and his wife have both lost their jobs.
During a bail hearing, prosecutors said Niazi had been recorded calling Osama bin Laden an angel and plotting to blow up buildings in Orange County. But Scolnick said he is confident the allegations were false.
"I'm convinced there is nothing to those charges," he said.
Niazi has been contacted by his former employer though, Scolnick said, and is expected to return to work soon.
Ayloush said CAIR officials have not received a response from the Department of Justice.
"It should not go unpunished," he said.
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