Suit filed over broad surveillance of Muslims based solely on religion
(LOS ANGELES, CA, 2/23/11) -- The Council on American-Islamic Relations of the Greater Los Angeles Area (CAIR-LA), the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC), and the law firm Hadsell Stormer Keeny Richardson & Renick LLP today announced that they have filed a federal class action lawsuit against the FBI for infiltrating mainstream mosques in Southern California and targeting Muslim Americans for surveillance solely because of their religion.
For over 14 months between 2006 and 2007, FBI agents planted an informant in Orange County mosques who posed as a convert to Islam and through whom the FBI collected names, telephone numbers, e-mails, and other information on hundreds of California Muslims. Sheikh Yassir Fazaga, Ali Malik, and Yassir AbdelRahim - plaintiffs in the case-are three of the many individuals who came in contact with the bureau's informant.
SEE: Lawsuit Alleges FBI Violated Muslims' Freedom of Religion (Washington Post)
SEE: Local Muslims Outraged by alleged FBI Surveillance, Lawyers claim (LA Times)
According to the lawsuit, the FBI directed the informant, a convicted felon named Craig Monteilh, to gather as much information as possible on members of the Muslim community, and to focus on people who were more devout in their religious practice, irrespective of whether any particular individual was believed to be involved in criminal activity.
"The FBI gathered information on hundreds of innocent Americans simply because they worship at a mosque. It's hard to imagine a more blatant violation of the First Amendment's guarantees against religious discrimination," said Peter Bibring, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC).
The First Amendment guarantees that no person should be singled out for different treatment by the government because of his or her religion, which is exactly what the FBI did to the Muslim community, according to the suit.
Ameena Mirza Qazi, Deputy Executive Director and Staff Attorney for CAIR-LA, said: "Targeting American Muslims for surveillance not only destroys community cohesion, it erodes the trust between law enforcement and Muslim communities, which, in turn, undermines our national security interests. This broad investigation by the FBI that failed to produce even a single terrorism-related conviction was not based on suspicion of criminal activity, but rather on the targets being Muslim."
Montheilh's role as an FBI informant was not revealed until February 2009, first in court documents, in which the FBI and local law enforcement revealed his role, and then through his own statements which have been reported widely in the press.
Josh Piovia-Scott, an attorney with the law firm Hadsell Stormer Keeny Richardson & Renick LLP said, "This practice is an abuse of the Constitution, and this case will force the FBI to destroy its illegally obtained information."
The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief on behalf of all people targeted by the FBI agents and their informant, requiring the FBI to turn over or destroy all information collected through the discriminatory investigation, as well as damages for emotional distress for the three named plaintiffs.
There are approximately 120,000 Muslims in Orange County, a dynamic part of the Southern California Muslim community, which is home to the second largest population of Muslims in the United States.
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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