LOS ANGELES (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed part of a lawsuit that alleged the FBI violated the civil rights of Muslims in Southern California when the agency hired an undercover informant to infiltrate mosques.
U.S. District Judge Corman J. Carney made the decision in the case against the FBI, saying that though the federal agency has immunity, it doesn’t apply to seven federal agents named in the suit.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Council on American-Islamic Relations jointly filed the suit last year.
“We don’t believe the Constitution permits (Carney’s) conclusion and as a result of the court’s decision, hundreds of law-abiding Muslims in Southern California will never learn whether the government violated their most basic civil rights,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, an ACLU attorney.
The civil liberties group has vowed to appeal.
The key informant in the case, civilian Craig Monteilh, turned against the FBI and described how the agency taught him to ingratiate himself into the religious community to secretly gather cellphone number and email addresses and to record conversations.
In return for pay from the FBI, Monteilh said that from 2006 to 2007 he presented himself as a Muslim convert at various Islamic community centers, and recorded hundreds of hours of Muslim gatherings in homes, businesses and mosques in Orange County.
Monteilh claimed the FBI even told him to talk openly about jihad in an attempt to solicit terrorist sentiments from community members.
Carney said his ruling was based on the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, which was enacted in 1978 to outline legal surveillance and search of people believed to be engaged in espionage or terrorism against the United States.
“Plaintiffs have pleaded sufficient facts to demonstrate that, taken in the light most favorable to them, they are ‘aggrieved persons’ and that the agent defendants violated a clearly established statutory right created by (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act),” Carney wrote.