By Jerry Markon-An FBI informant who infiltrated a California mosque violated the constitutional rights of hundreds of Muslims by targeting them for surveillance because of their religion, the ACLU and a Muslim group said in a lawsuit Tuesday.
The lawsuit, filed against the FBI and seven of its agents and supervisors, focuses on the actions several years ago of Craig Monteilh, a paid FBI informant. Monteilh has said he was instructed to spy on worshipers at an Irvine mosque in a quest for potential terrorists, allegations that prompted fierce criticism of the FBI from some Muslims in Southern California and nationwide.
The lawsuit alleges that Monteilh was ordered by his FBI handlers to conduct “indiscriminate surveillance” of Muslims, violating their First Amendment right to freedom of religion. Filed on behalf of three Muslim plaintiffs, the 64-page document seeks class action status, unspecified damages and a court order instructing the FBI to destroy or return the information Monteilh collected.
“The FBI should be spending its time and resources investigating actual threats, not spying on every American who happens to worship at a mosque,” said Peter Bibring, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, which filed the complaint along with the Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.