ST. LOUIS — Concerns about racial profiling and other questionable tactics used to investigate the possible terrorist recruitment of Somalis living in the United States are prompting some Muslim leaders in St. Louis and elsewhere to limit their cooperation with the FBI.
Across the country, federal agents are intensifying efforts to make connections within the Somali community amid growing concern that some are being radicalized by al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists.
Over the past two years, about two dozen teenagers and young men have disappeared, most from the Minneapolis area, and returned to the Horn of Africa to possibly train with terrorist groups, according to the FBI. In October, one of the men became what is believed to be the first U.S. citizen to carry out a terrorist suicide attack when he blew himself up near Mogadishu killing 30 people.
"We've talked to a lot of people, we've asked them to come forward and we're going to continue to do that," said E.K. Wilson, spokesman for the FBI office in Minneapolis, home to the largest concentration of Somalis in the U.S.
But some critics say that what the FBI calls community outreach at times involves the use of coercion, threats and intimidation.
"The Somali Muslim community in particular feels they are under siege by law enforcement," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic civil rights and advocacy group.
Hooper cited recent instances of Muslims in Minnesota being interrogated by agents on college campuses, worshippers in Michigan being asked to spy in their mosques and the FBI's use of a paid informer to infiltrate mosques in California.
Elsewhere, he said, imams have had their immigration status threatened if they failed to cooperate with investigators.
In St. Louis, a CAIR official said he was contacted in September by a Somali business owner in Missouri who said he had been threatened by FBI agents.
"It was a carrot and stick where they were promising him rewards for spying on people in the community," said Jim Hacking III, a legal consultant for CAIR in St. Louis. "When he rebuffed those requests, they turned around and used the stick and threatened to keep him from seeing his children and 'burying' him."
On the night before President Barack Obama took office, Hacking said he was contacted by FBI agents who told him they needed to immediately find three Somalis who lived in the St. Louis area.
"One of the agents mentioned the inauguration and said it was very important that they verify the physical location of these people," Hacking said. "As we always would on a matter of national security, we helped them and put them in contact with the people they were looking for."
Despite such cooperation, CAIR itself has come under FBI scrutiny. The council once provided diversity training to the FBI, but the FBI ended the relationship after CAIR was named as one of about 300 unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorist-funding case in Texas.
CAIR officials deny any connection to terrorist organizations and say the allegation is part of a government effort to marginalize mainstream Muslim organizations.
Hooper, Hacking and others say such actions are driving a growing wedge between law-abiding Muslims and law enforcement.
"Our preference would be to have very positive relations with law enforcement agencies at all levels of the government," Hooper said. "We hope to return to that in the near future. But it's a two-way street. We need to feel there is some trust, some mutual respect and these kind of inappropriate activities are not going to continue." (More)
CAIR: FBI, COPS WON'T COMMENT ON KING'S MUSLIM ASSERTIONS - TOP Reid J. Epstein, Newsday, 4/20/09
The FBI and Nassau police Monday declined to comment directly about Rep. Peter King's assertion that U.S. Muslims are uncooperative with police, but stressed that they do not focus investigations on particular religious denominations.
However, a spokeswoman for the federal Department of Homeland Security, Amy Kudwa, rejected King's assertion, saying it "would be unfair and inaccurate to characterize each Muslim community in the United States in a single statement."
In an MSNBC interview Friday about a Department of Homeland Security report about the resurgence of right-wing extremism, King complained of a lack of department reports and assessments of Islamic extremists; he noted that on Long Island "there are a number of mosques under surveillance by law enforcement agencies."
King (R-Seaford) said the department "has never put out a report talking about look out for mosques. Look out for Islamic terrorists in our country. Look out for the fact that very few Muslims come forward to cooperate with the police. If they sent out a report saying that, there would be hell to pay."
Kudwa said that while the department does not conduct surveillance on mosques, "We've issued dozens of notes, bulletins and assessments on Islamic extremists. Though most are foreign, we have acknowledged potential domestic threats, including the warning issue on al-Shabaab and potential threats to the inauguration."
On Monday, the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on the FBI to "confirm or deny" King's claim that Long Island mosques were under law enforcement surveillance. The FBI, while not addressing King's comments, said its investigations target individuals, not organizations. "The FBI does not investigate mosques or other houses of worship," spokesman James Margolin said in a statement Monday. "With proper predication, consistent with FBI and Department of Justice investigative guidelines and Constitutional protections, the FBI investigates individuals to determine whether they are engaged in or plotting criminal or terrorist acts."
Nassau Police Det. Lt. Kevin Smith, while declining to address King's comments, said the department's relations with mosques are "on par" with other religious groups. (More)
CAIR-NY: MOSQUE SURVEILLANCE VIOLATES CIVIL LIBERTIES - TOP
CAIR: COURT ASKS FBI FOR MUSLIM SURVEILLANCE FILES - TOP Muslim organizations are angry over reports of spying in Southern California mosques. Sean Emery, Orange County Register, 4/21/09
The widening rift between the FBI and the Islamic community has drawn the American Civil Liberties Union into the fray, with the organization's lawyers declaring victory in their efforts to force the release of government surveillance records on Southern California Muslims.
A federal district court judge Monday gave the FBI 30 days to make available for review 48 pages of surveillance memos pertaining to Southern California Muslim organizations that had previously been released only in heavily redacted form, 47 pages of previously withheld memos, and FBI files on the Council of American Islamic Relations and Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the group's Southern Californian Chapter, ACLU staff attorney Jennie Pasquarella said.
Ayloush and Shakeel Syed, the executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, joined Pasquarella in the courtyard of the federal courthouse in Santa Ana minutes after the judge's ruling, declaring the decision a victory for Muslim organizations.
"We are exercising our first amendment rights, and we are running out of patience," Syed said.
FBI representatives forwarded requests for comment to Department of Justice officials, who could not be immediately reached for comment. Federal officials have previously denied charges by several national Islamic organizations that the government has taken part in "fishing expeditions" by sending informants to ensnare Muslims at area Mosques.
A coalition of Islamic organizations known as the American Muslim Taskforce last month threatened to cut ties with the FBI, accusing the agency of using "McCarthy-era tactics." …
Ayloush said he hoped this week's court ruling could spark a "healing phase" between the Muslim community and the FBI.
"We're hoping this will begin the process of undoing this climate of fear," Ayloush said. (More)
CAIR-MI: DETROIT MOSQUE FIRE INVESTIGATED - TOP Gregg Krupa, Detroit News, 4/21/09
Police and fire officials are investigating a fire inside the Tawheed Center, a mosque on West Warren, which was discovered early Saturday by a person arriving for morning prayers.
Members of the mosque say a back window was broken, and an accelerant, perhaps gasoline, was poured through the window and set on fire. Damage to the mosque was minimal, officials said.
Dawud Walid of the Council on American Islamic Relations said members of the mosque have had difficulty with some people in the neighborhood in recent days, and the fire does not appear to be a hate crime. (More)
The tremendous interest in my story yesterday about a 2005 NSA wiretap picking up California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman conversing with a suspected Israeli agent took me by surprise, frankly.
It's always gratifying to find so many people paying attention to things like this when Carrie Prejean is only a click away.
The first thing I want to dispel, though, is the apparently widespread notion that the timing of my story Monday was somehow related to: (1) the upcoming trial of former AIPAC lobbyists Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman; (2) the raging debate over the NSA's warrantless wiretaps, (3) the Justice Department/CIA's torture memos; (4) anything else.
More on that later.
But first, The New York Times weighed in Monday night, confirming my story in all important aspects and moving it forward a notch.
Here's the lede from Neil A. Lewis and Mark Mazzetti:
"One of the leading House Democrats on intelligence matters was overheard on telephone calls intercepted by the National Security Agency agreeing to seek lenient treatment from the Bush administration for two pro-Israel lobbyists who were under investigation for espionage, current and former government officials say." (More)
DC CONFERENCE EXAMINES FUTURE OF U.S.-MUSLIM RELATIONS UNDER OBAMA'S ADMINISTRATION - TOP American and Foreign Experts Discuss Challenges and Promises Ahead
WASHINGTON, April 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- President Obama's recent trip to the Muslim world within the first 100 days of his presidency highlights to many his firm commitment to improving relations with the Muslim world.
"We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect," the President said during a speech in Turkey, just before flying to Iraq. "We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground."
An upcoming conference in the metro-D.C. area, hosted by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), will explore whether the current administration's proposed policy changes indicate the beginning of a more positive relationship.
The conference, "How to Improve U.S.-Muslim Relations," will bring policy experts and academics from around the world to discuss the challenges and promises ahead for the future of U.S.- Muslim relations, including the development of democracy in the Muslim world and the role of Islam in that process.
WHAT: CSID 10th Annual Conference, "How to Improve U.S.-Muslim Relations." WHEN: Tuesday, May 5th, 2009 WHERE: Sheraton Crystal City Hotel, 1800 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, VA 22202
SPEAKERS: Shibley Telhami, University of Maryland; John Esposito, Georgetown University; Geneive Abdo, The Century Foundation; among many others.
"The Obama administration is off to a good start in terms of improving relations and understanding with the Muslim world, but there are several policy questions and issues that need to be considered before we can really see real progress. Our Conference will bring well-known scholars and experts from the US and the Muslim world to focus on specific changes and recommendations," said Radwan A. Masmoudi, President of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy.
Established in March 1999, CSID celebrates its 10th anniversary with this important conference, launching a new decade of work in creating a modern Islamic democratic discourse. The organization was founded by a diverse group of academicians, professionals, and activists from varied religious backgrounds, united by the conviction that Islam's relationship to democracy is in dire need of greater understanding and clarification to facilitate a more fruitful cross-cultural dialogue.
CONTACT: Rabiah Ahmed, Mirza PR, at 202-439-1441 or Rabiah@mirzapr.com
VA PANEL: ‘ISLAM, THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION, AND THE MUSLIMS’ - TOP
WHAT: Panel Discussion WHEN: Thursday, April 23, 2009, 8 p.m. WHERE: Al-Hewar Center, 124 Park Street SE, Vienna, Va.
SUBJECT: The Al-Hewar Center holds a discussion on "Islam, the Obama Administration, and the Muslims" with Yvonne Haddad, professor at Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
CIVIL WAR RAGING IN RIGHT-WING BLOGOSPHERE - TOP Terrorism-Watching Conservative Blogs Split Over Accusations of Bigotry and Treason David Weigel, Washington Independent, 4/21/09
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, jazz musician and Web designer Charles Johnson has devoted his blog, Little Green Footballs, to exposing Muslim extremism in and outside the United States. His targets have included the Council on American-Islamic Relations, filmmaker Michael Moore, Reuters, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Dan Rather, and the late pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie — who some LGF commenters (not Johnson) call “St. Pancake,” a tribute to the Israeli steamroller that killed her.
LGF helped write the lexicon of the self-styled “anti-Jihadist” blogosphere — from “moonbat” (”an unthinking or insane leftist”) to “anti-idiotarian” (”anyone who grasps the significance of and does his or her best to combat the post-9/11 political alliance between the ‘Old Left’ and militant Islam”).
But in the early days of Barack Obama’s presidency, LGF has become better known for the various fights it picks with many on the right — including conservative bloggers, critics of Islamic extremism, and critics of Islam in general who used to be Johnson’s fellow travelers.
Johnson has blasted Fox News host Glenn Beck, promoting a video from a Beck-inspired party that shows conservatives ranting about evolution and arguing that “this turn toward the extreme right on the part of Fox News is troubling, and will achieve nothing in the long run except further marginalization of the GOP.”
In response to the news that the Department of Homeland Security was watching for increased right-wing extremism — something that most of the conservative blogosphere, like most Republicans, responded to with angry ridicule — Johnson pointed to the recent arrests of right-wing terrorists and criticized bloggers for buying into “distorted claims” about the DHS report.
When Obama genuflected before King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Johnson found archival video of President Bush bowing to take a medal from the King and urged conservatives to turn down their “hyperventilating nonsense.” ...
“I don’t think there is an anti-jihadist movement anymore,” Johnson said. “It’s all a bunch of kooks. I’ve watch some people who I thought were reputable, and who I trusted, hook up with racists and Nazis. I see a lot of them promoting stories and causes that I think are completely nuts.”
Johnson’s disgust with the terrorism-focused conservative blogosphere has had a traumatic effect on a dogged and dogmatic community of bloggers and scholars. When Johnson began blogging about Islam and terrorism after 9/11, he inspired untold other supporters of an aggressive war on terror to start their own Websites, link up, and push back against “Dhimmitude” — organizations and foreign policy decision makers that were “soft” on terrorism. Now, some of his followers have started blogs that track Johnson’s “madness,” while a video that portrays Johnson as Adolf Hitler going mad in his bunker makes the rounds.
“He’s the reason I started blogging,” said Atlas Shrugs editor Pamela Geller, a New Yorker who says she was “mugged by Sept. 11? and started reading LGF for news and fellowship. “I wrote birthday messages to him. I respected and admired him.”
Robert Spencer, the director of JihadWatch and the author of the bestselling, “Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam,” had an established career as a critic of militant Islam before he met Johnson. “But right after 9/11, he was the only one out there reporting on this,” Spencer said. “He built my Website. I learned how to blog from reading his stuff.”
Johnson has turned hard against Spencer and Geller, attacking the former for joining a “genocidal Facebook group,” while referring to the latter as a “shrieking lunatic,” and labelling both of them “hatebloggers.” Johnson now points to Geller’s posts about Barack Obama’s heritage and her quest to fund a headstone for the victim of a Muslim honor killing as proof that “the woman is deranged.” Other bloggers in the movement have been purged from Johnson’s blogroll or pilloried on the site, never to be mentioned again. The most successful sites that arose in LGF’s wake, including Gateway Pundit, Gates of Vienna, and Brussels Journal, are also on the outs. (More)