FBI recruiting Muslim spies, group says

A Michigan Muslim organization said Thursday it has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate complaints alleging the FBI is asking followers of the faith to spy on Islamic leaders and congregations.

The Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan sent a letter last week to Holder after mosques and other groups reported members of the community have been approached to monitor people coming to mosques and donations they make.

Sandra Berchtold, a spokeswoman in the FBI’s Detroit office, had no immediate comment.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said such complaints aren’t new, but concerns grew after a recent revelation the FBI planted a spy in a Southern California mosque.

An FBI agent testified in February at a detention hearing that an informant infiltrated several mosques in Orange County, Calif., and befriended Ahmadullah Niazi, brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard. Niazi was charged with lying about his ties to terrorist groups on his citizenship and passport applications.

Former FBI agents and federal prosecutors have said spying on mosques is one of the government’s best weapons to thwart terrorists, but agents need to have credible and specific information before sending in a plant.

Walid said the complaints in Michigan amount to a “fishing expedition.”

“If there was a specific imam who they felt was telling people to support Osama bin Laden, that’s a different story – we wouldn’t have a problem with that,” he said. “Community members would be the first people to report to federal law enforcement if such things were being said.”

Walid said the most common complaints have come from people with pending immigration issues being approached by agents to monitor mosques in exchange for help in resolving their citizenship cases.

He said the Detroit area’s Muslim community – one the country’s largest – has been supported by non-Muslim groups and individuals, and that a Catholic youth organization, a Baptist pastor and an interfaith group promoting peace and justice have all written letters calling for a federal investigation.

“The attorney general has not been in office for that long,” Walid said. “He’s in the process of revamping the Justice Department. It’s extremely necessary for him to take a serious look at this issue.”

Associated Press, 16 April 2009