FBI Probes Test Trust Between U.S. Muslims and Law Enforcement

Posted on October 5, 2009


Ahmad Wais Afzali, Queens Imam and FBI Informant Now Arrested and Accused of Lying to Authorities

Ahmad Wais Afzali, Queens Imam and FBI Informant Now Arrested and Accused of Lying to Authorities

Probes Test Trust That Authorities Strove to Win From U.S. Muslims

By Carrie Johnson and Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 5, 2009

Investigators seeking to uncover terrorist plots for years have walked a fine line between keeping tabs on the Muslim community and alienating the same people who could serve as an early warning signal.

That tenuous balance has been tested again in what law enforcement authorities say is one of the most worrisome terrorism investigations in decades, the unfolding case against Denver shuttle bus driver Najibullah Zazi, who has been charged with conspiracy to unleash weapons of mass destruction in the form of hydrogen peroxide bombs.

A Queens man [Ahmad Wais Afzali] who had been a power broker in his Muslim community — and a source for the New York City Police Department — allegedly tipped off Zazi of the police interest early last month. That complicated the ongoing investigation of what investigators say were al-Qaeda operatives on American soil, and led to the indictment of the Queens man on criminal charges.

Tension among the FBI, local police and members of the Islamic community has flared several times in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes. Earlier this year some Muslim charities and advocacy groups threatened to cut ties with the FBI amid concern that investigators were infiltrating mosques in California and elsewhere.

FBI leaders say they have tried to strengthen ties to Muslims through advisory councils, community group meetings and other contacts. Building such relationships is important because investigators, who often lack language skills and deep understanding of immigrant enclaves, must rely on insiders to help guide them through the maze of cultural issues.

“Your job is to know everything that’s going on in that mosque — everything,” said Jack Cloonan, a retired special agent for the FBI who worked in the Afghan community in Queens from the late 1980s until 2002. “What is going on in this community? Do I know what’s going on within the mosque? Do I know who’s coming in? Do I know what’s going on in terms of criminal activity? Who will know this?” […]

“People are scared,” said a 36-year-old Flushing man who declined to give his name. “They’re scared that if they work with the police they’ll get hurt, and if they don’t work with the police they’ll get hurt.”
The civil liberties concerns resounded again after the FBI released its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide on Sept. 25 as part of a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Muslim Advocates. The guidelines amount to a road map for agents who are conducting investigations, but some of the most sensitive material, about agents’ undisclosed participation as informants stationed in mosques and churches, was blacked out in the report.

Nadhira al-Khalili, national legal counsel at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement that the guidelines could “inevitably lead to violations of the Constitution and the right of all Americans to practice their faith without fear of government intrusion or intimidation.”

CAIR and the American Civil Liberties Union called upon the Justice Department and Congress to overhaul the guidelines to ensure that FBI agents are acting in line with the law. But supporters of the guidelines say they were developed in consultation with religious and civil liberties groups, and were the subject of three congressional hearings. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. made a point to visit a mosque during a trip to the Los Angeles area in July, where he emphasized the administration’s desire to work with the Muslim community and protect civil liberties. [Please click here to read the remainder of this article.]

Related Articles:

1. U.S. Congressman Ellison Questions FBI’s Mueller About Treatment of U.S. Muslims.

2. FBI Using Fake Muslim Converts or Missionaries To Entrap Muslims.

3. Alledged Department of Justice Guidelines May Lead to Profiling of Muslim Arab Americans.

4. Former Marine Outlines Secret Dossiers on Muslims and Arabs in Southern California.