The ACLU of Southern California, the Council for American-Islamic Relations of Greater Los Angeles, and the law firm Hadsell Stormer Keeny Richardson & Renick LLP today announced they have filed a federal class action law suit against the Federal Bureau of Investigations 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 the 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 individuals, including Sheikh Yassir Fazaga, Ali Malik, and Yassir Abdel Rahim, plaintiffs in the case and three of the many people who interacted with the FBI’s informant.

The FBI directed the informant, 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.

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 in Orange County. There are approximately 120,000 Muslims in Orange County, making the area home to the second largest population of Muslims in the United States.

“Targeting Muslims for surveillance not only destroys community cohesion, it erodes the trust between law enforcement and Muslim communities, which undermines national security,” said Ameena Mirza Qazi, deputy executive director and staff attorney for CAIR-LA.

Montheilh’s role as an FBI informant was not revealed until February 2009, first in court documents where the FBI and local law enforcement revealed his role, and then through his own statements which have been reported widely in the press.

“This practice is an abuse of the Constitution, and this case will force the FBI to destroy its illegally obtained information,” said Josh Piovia-Scott, an attorney with the law firm Hadsell Stormer Keeny Richardson & Renick LLP.

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.

Top photo: Ameena Mirza Qazi, deputy executive director and staff attorney, CAIR-LA, with Imam Yassir Fazaga (left), and Hussam Ayloush, executive director, CAIR-LA.

Bottom photo: Dan Stormer, attorney, of Hadsell Stormer Keeny Richardson & Renick LLP.