Daily News : FBI agents watched Orange County gyms in anti-terror probes

Thursday, April 30, 2009

FBI agents watched Orange County gyms in anti-terror probes

Daily News Wire Services | April 28, 2009

SANTA ANA - FBI agents watched Orange County gyms to gather intelligence on members of several local mosques, a man who claims to have been a key informant in the operation said.

The head of the FBI office in Los Angeles confirmed the surveillance occurred but declined further comment.

Southern California Muslim leaders issued a statement, demanding the Obama administration investigate the tactics, which Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Anaheim-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said "reflects a deeply rooted mind-set that was promoted by the Bush Administration."

"I'm not surprised," Ayloush said. "It confirms our worst fears."

Craig Monteilh said he posed as a Muslim convert at the request of the FBI to gather intelligence that might aid anti-terrorism investigators. He said he identified several hundred men for agents.

Monteilh, who has a background as a personal trainer, said he was instructed to lure mosque members to work out with him at local gyms.

FBI agents, he said, later would get security camera footage from the gyms and ask him to identify the people on the video and to provide additional information about them. He said he was told FBI agents did background checks on the men, looking for anything that could be used to pressure them to become informants.

While the disclosure upset Muslim leaders, an FBI spokeswoman said it was "absurd to suggest that FBI agents are randomly targeting Middle Eastern men or any other ethnic group for investigation."

Monteilh, 46, is a twice-convicted felon who says he was recruited by the FBI in 2006 to go undercover in the Islamic Center of Irvine, where he said he pretended to be Farouk Al-Aziz, a Syrian-French-American searching for his Islamic roots.

He says he secretly recorded conversations with members of several mosques and provided the recordings to the FBI.

Monteilh said the FBI stopped using him as an informant in 2007 when a supervisor questioned his credibility. He has since filed a legal claim against the bureau, accusing it of reneging on promises to pay him $100,000 and place him in a witness protection program.