OC Muslims sued FBI to ‘protect the Constitution, citizens, and democracy’

Former Religious Director of the Orange County Islamic Foundation and Director of the Mental Health Department at Access California Services Sheikh Yassir Fazaga is optimistic about the Supreme Court decision in the case involving him and two other Muslim plaintiffs accusing the FBI of illegally surveiling them and the Muslim community of Orange County in 2006 and 2007. 

“[It] will protect the Constitution, citizens and democracy. That's what we want,” said Fazaga, currently the director of counseling services at the Memphis Islamic Center in Tennessee.

The Supreme Court decision was to dismiss all claims against the FBI except for the invocation of the state secrets privilege. 

“We are expecting an opinion early June – July at the latest – to see what the Supreme Court says, and they will set the parameters on what the lower courts can do and which claim of ours can move forward,” said Amr Shabaik, civil rights managing attorney at Council of American-Islamic Relations Los Angeles (CAIR-LA) and the leading lawyer on the case.

If the Supreme Court decides in favor of CAIR-LA and plaintiffs, lower courts can continue the case, which questions the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) and the state secrets privilege, according to Shabaik. 

FISA and the state secrets privilege protect law enforcement and the government in the use of surveillance on citizens and the power to dismiss cases that may lead to a potential national security threat if certain information gets out to the public. 

Fazaga, along with two other plaintiffs Ali Malik and Yasser AbdelRahim, argue that the invocation of these powers are violations of the Constitution.

This case, which was filed in 2011, all started when the plaintiffs heard claims back in 2006 that the FBI was surveilling Muslims. At that time, the FBI had a town hall meeting with CAIR and Fazaga, according to both Shabaik and Fazaga.

Little did Fazaga know that the FBI had an informant surveilling him at the time.

This FBI Informant, Craig Monteilh, outwardly embraced Islam in the Islamic Center of Irvine in July 2006 and went to various mosques, according to Shabaik. Monteihl “had the constant desire to talk about Jihad and was always insisting and making the congregation want violence. It was weird. I remember getting phone calls from community members telling me that he wants to talk but only talks about this stuff. It was a huge red flag for us,” Fazaga said.

Monteilh would not only try to incite violence, but would also leave recording devices in mosques and even in a therapist’s office, according to Fazaga.

“According to the informant, he had placed listening devices in my office. And remember I'm also a therapist, so they were recording meetings that were confidential,” Fazaga said. “He would also just walk around randomly. He would end up leaving his keys and stuff behind all the time and leaving recording devices to record people’s conversations.”

Even though it’s been a decade since the case was filed, Fazaga is hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold the Constitution. 

In addition, Fazaga and Shabaik both want college students to lead the activism against state-sponsored Islamophobia, and be generally more aware that the case is not only for the rights of Muslims, but all Americans.

“Be informed of everything happening to the Muslim community. Colleges are put in place to create awareness of issues such as this case filed by Islamophobia. Be aware of your rights,” Shabaik said.

Specifically for Muslims, Shabaik advises: “If Muslim students get surveilled against by the FBI, you have the right to remain silent and contact CAIR or any other organization for the right to have access to a lawyer. You can make people on campus aware and have campaigns,” he said. “Awareness and continuing to advocate these issues on college campuses.”

Regardless of the outcome of the case, Fazaga is proud of the legal fight. 

“I’m happy that we’re fighting and that's really important. I hope the case is not just about me but awakens many stories for people who have been violated in any way and that there are other stories similar but have never been able to be brought out to the public,” Fazaga said. “It’s also important that the case is not just about Muslims. It's about all citizens.”

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