In Bid to Gain Trust, FBI Forms Muslim Advisory Group

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Neither the FBI nor the Muslim community denies that they had a rocky relationship that reached climax in the wake of 9/11. But now, both sides express enthusiasm for a new advisory group that hopes to put the past behind and look toward a brighter future.

Still to be officially named, the new group comprises of members of the Muslim community, the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Some of it’s’ functions are the first in the nation.

“The purpose of the group is to develop a better understanding of each other; to workout any grievances, and to create an atmosphere conducive to trust and cooperation,” says FBI spokesman Paul McCabe. “We need the cooperation of the Muslim community.”

Some high profile cases in the state, including Mohamed Warsame, a Somali student accused of being linked to Al-Qaeda, has contributed to the cloudy relationship between Muslims and the FBI.

Still in its infancy stage, the new group stemmed from an aggressive outreach effort waged by the FBI after 9/11. Two years ago, Muslim leaders, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office, had a “historic summit” in a south Minneapolis mosque.

“Imams constructively criticized us and we also did the same,” says McCabe. “It was a very heated, yet a productive meeting.”

That meeting had a reverberating effect. For the next months and years, the two sides would meet, taking one step forward at a time.

“We’ve accomplished a lot since then,” says McCabe. “We learned that Muslims don’t like to see their faith misrepresented or misinterpreted by rogue individuals,”

At the behest of McCabe, WCCO’s I-Team, which investigates local issues, did a primetime story reflective of the Islamic faith and practices. That defused negative portrayal of Muslims by some media, according to McCabe. He also bought some books to help him better understand Islam.

In fact, two Muslim leaders spoke at the FBI’s annual all employees conference. And as part of their training, agents watch a tape showing the Muslim culture.

One of the Muslim leaders who cultivated this relationship with the FBI is Imam Hassan Mohamud, the vice president of Muslim American Society (MAS). He sees the new relationship as a key to bridging positive ties with the FBI.

But he says the FBI still makes avoidable mistakes when raiding Muslim houses.

“We’ve submitted more than nine complaints to the FBI,” says Mohamud, “We reminded them that Muslim women need to cover themselves before a man can just break into their door and catch them off guard,”

Mohamud, who also teaches Islamic Law at William Mitchell College, says agents from ICE and TSA, respectively charged with immigration and transportation security, still single-out Muslim traveling in and out of the airport.

McCabe, the FBI spokesman, says those are the kinds of complaints this advisory group will try to address. He acknowledges that the relationship isn’t where they would like it to be.

The FBI, he says, is entrusted with protecting this country from another terrorism attack, but it’s also responsible of ensuring that no civil rights violations are committed against anyone, Muslims including.

After 9/11, the FBI started a seven-week Citizens’ Academy intended to demystify the agency, attach a human face to it and the defuse widespread fear of the agency. Some Muslim leaders have completed the course.

Separately, the FBI recently formed a Civil Rights Advisory Group, which comprises of local ethnic and community leaders, law enforcement agencies and faith-based groups.

The functions of this latter group are similar to the previous one, but McCabe says it’s part of the overall “New FBI’s quest to foster greater relations with different communities.”

For the first time, the FBI hired a fulltime community outreach specialist to coordinate different groups.

McCabe says he befriended with some of the faith and community leaders he worked with throughout the process.