On Monday, we told you about Craig Monteilh, the rogue FBI informant so enthusiastic about finding terrorists in a California mosque that community members reported him to the FBI. Monteilh went public and sued the FBI after the fiasco, and, more recently, terror-related charges were dropped against mosque member Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, who was indicted apparently in large part because of information supplied by Monteilh.
But there’s another twist. Niazi claims he was charged only after refusing to become an informer himself.
To recap: in 2006, Monteilh, working for the FBI and posing as a French Syrian in search of his Islamic roots, infiltrated the Islamic Center of Irvine in southern California. He attended prayers regularly, started wearing a robe, and would reportedly go up to mosque members saying things like, “It’s good that you guys are getting ready for the jihad.”
Monteilh apparently gravitated to the Afghan-born Niazi in particular. In May 2007, Monteilh recorded a conversation between himself, Niazi and a third man, in which Monteilh suggested blowing up buildings and Niazi agreed. But just a few days after the conversation, Niazi and the other man got in touch with Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to express concerns about Monteilh. Ayloush then reported Monteilh, the FBI informant, to the FBI.
Things appear to have gotten only more convoluted after that. Ayloush says agents interviewed Niazi about Monteilh. According to The Washington Post, the mosque went to Orange County Superior Court in June 2007 and obtained a restraining order against Monteilh. But it is Niazi who the Feds continued to pursue.
On February 11, 2009, a grand jury indicted Niazi on terror-related immigration and perjury charges. Sources told the Post much of the evidence against Niazi came from Monteilh. The indictment cited offenses committed on naturalization documents Niazi filled out in 2004, and said that in 2005 he had visited family in Pakistan, including a member of Al Qaeda. On February 20, Niazi was arrested. Four days later, Niazi’s bail was set at $500,000. According to local news at the time, FBI Agent Thomas J. Ropel III testified that Niazi had called Osama bin Laden “an angel” and had lied about how many times he and “another man” had discussed jihad. The same day, however, Ayloush sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Niazi’s behalf, claiming that in 2008 Ropel had threatened to make Niazi’s life “hell” if he did not cooperate with law enforcement. Ayloush wrote:
In April 2008 Mr. Niazi reported to our office that he had been at the home of a potential business partner when it was raided by the FBI. He told us that, during the raid, Special Agent Thomas J. Ropel III urged Mr. Niazi to “work” with the agency, saying that if Mr. Niazi refused to cooperate his life would be made a “living hell.” While he expressed his willingness to assist law enforcement, Mr. Niazi refused to become an informant. In June 2008, when the FBI raided the Niazi home, Agent Ropel allegedly told Mr. Niazi, “I told you; you didn’t listen to me. Now you get it.”
In an interview with TPM this week, Ayloush maintained that Niazi had been prosecuted after being pressured to become an informant. Ayloush told TPM that he is in contact with Niazi, but that Niazi has been advised by his attorney not to speak to the media.
“We’re very dissapointed by the FBI,” Ayloush said. “So the community witnesses this, and now they’re wondering, who’s our friend?”
On September 29, in the application to dismiss the indictment, Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald cited “evidentiary issues, including the unavailability of an overseas witness” as reasons prosecutors were seeking to drop the charges.
When contacted by TPM, the FBI’s Los Angeles field office had no comment.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com