The US Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a case that would determine whether the US government will be able to keep monitoring Muslim communities and their places of worship without accountability in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
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Muslim plaintiffs in the case, which stems from a lawsuit originally filed in 2011, have accused the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of subjecting their mosque and community in southern California to undercover surveillance by a paid informant.
Sheikh Yassir Fazaga, Ali Malik and Yasser Abdel Rahim, the three plaintiffs in the case, contend that they and thousands of other Muslim Americans became targets of the FBI’s dragnet surveillance because of their religion.
They argue that the US government has for years invoked national security to escape accountability over its unconstitutional surveillance operations and deny them the chance to present their evidence to court.
“We’ve been feeling violated for the past 15 years now, at least since the time that I found out what the FBI was doing,” said Fazaga, who was an imam at the Orange County Islamic Foundation in Mission Viejo, California.
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The FBI recruited a paid informant with a checkered past to spy on the mosque and other places of worship in the area beginning in 2006. The informant, identified as Craig Monteilh, had presented himself as a person who wanted to convert to Islam.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says Monteilh, a fitness instructor convicted for fraud, recorded religious prayer groups in the mosque and secretly made videos in mosques, homes and businesses.
Fazaga, the lead plaintiff in the case who is also a therapist, said he was furious when he found out that the FBI informant had left a remote control in his office that was in fact a recording device. He said the personal and confidential sessions he had with his patients were secretly recorded for a month.
“You couldn’t go into a Catholic church in the confession room and put bugs there because that would just be a violation of these people’s rights and their religious freedom,” he said. “That applies to people in therapy as well. It applies to people in a mosque, a synagogue, a church, any place of worship.”
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Fazaga said he wanted the FBI to destroy all the information Monteilh secretly gathered in his office, especially recordings of counseling sessions.
The surveillance operation in Southern California was part of a broader spying program that the US government enforced after 9/11, using various tactics to monitor Muslim communities in the name of national security.