OC Muslims Say FBI Surveillance Has a Chilling Effect

March 1, 2009

Author: Teresa Watanabe and Paloma Esquivel

Source: The Los Angeles Times


The Islamic Center of Irvine is a beige stucco building that blends into the rows of office buildings surrounding it. But last week, it became the most publicized mosque in California with disclosures that the FBI sent an informant there to spy and collect evidence of jihadist rhetoric and other allegedly extremist acts by a Tustin man who attended prayers there.

The revelations dismayed mosque members like Omar Turbi, 50, and his 27-year-old son who shares his name. After Friday prayer service last week, while hundreds of others scurried back to work, the pair stood with their backs to a wall and mulled over the news.

"It gives you a little bit of apprehension about who you trust," the elder Turbi said. "Makes you think twice about what you say; what if people misunderstand you?"

Turbi's fears were echoed by other Muslims throughout Southern California last week. Some say a climate of suspicion toward them, fueled by 9/11 and underscored by the latest disclosures of FBI surveillance, is inhibiting their freedoms of speech and faith.

According to Muslim leaders, some people are avoiding mosques, preferring to pray at home. Others are reducing donations to avoid attracting government attention or paying in cash to avoid leaving records. And some mosques have asked speakers to refrain from political messages in their sermons, such as criticism of U.S. foreign policy, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim.