Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union asked the FBI on Monday to release documents detailing any post-Sept. 11 surveillance of Southern California mosques and Muslims.
Local Islamic leaders said they enlisted the ACLUâ€™s help after the FBI provided little information in response to their allegations that the agency was monitoring them and their places of worship. They say some Muslims are afraid to go to mosques because they fear government monitoring.
Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, said numerous Muslims reported being questioned by the FBI about their religious practices and sermons given during prayer services.
The ACLU filed the request under the federal Freedom of Information Act on behalf of individual Muslims and six Islamic groups, including the Shura Council, an Anaheim-based federation of more than 60 mosques, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group whose Southern California chapter is also in Anaheim.
The ACLU has used similar strategies to get government documents on other groups monitored by the FBI.
Records obtained last year on behalf of 150 organizations showed that FBI counterterrorism agents had been covertly watching several activist groups, including the Catholic Worker and Greenpeace, since the Sept. 11 attacks for links to violent or disruptive activities.
In January, the FBI acknowledged that agents monitored mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and homes throughout the country for radiation levels.
Government officials said they were acting on intelligence that Al Qaeda planned to use a radioactive â€œdirty bombâ€ in the U.S. The surveillance program, which consisted of checking for radioactivity in the air, began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and continued through 2003. After the radiation monitoring was disclosed in December 2005, FBI officials met with angry Muslim and Arab-American leaders in Washington to explain the surveillance program.
Syed of the Shura Council said he hoped the Freedom of Information Act request would lead to a similar meeting in Los Angeles with local FBI officials.
â€œThe problem is that we donâ€™t know the extent of the surveillance,â€ Syed said. In an e-mail, FBI officials said they would â€œaddressâ€ the ACLUâ€™s request but did not say whether records would be turned over. â€œThe FBI does not investigate anyone based on their lawful activities, religious or political beliefs,â€ said Assistant Director J. Stephen Tidwell of the L.A. office.
He added that FBI officials met with members of several local Middle Eastern communities, including Muslims, last month to address their concerns at an agency-sponsored town hall meeting in Los Angeles.
Tidwell said â€œopen, honest and continuous dialogue is the only way to build and maintain trust and confidence.â€
But Syed said the FBI had a â€œpractice of coming in through the back door to question people based only on the premise of suspicion.â€