Minnesota Council on American-Islamic Relations charges FBI harassment of director Lori Saroya

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The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate alleged retaliation against CAIR-MN Executive Director Lori Saroya, according to a recent release by the national Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.

According to CAIR’s press release, two FBI agents visited Saroya on February 4 at her Blaine home just two days after CAIR-MN told the media about FBI agents’ alleged intimidation tactics on a Minneapolis Somali last October. The man was allegedly harassed by the agents after they failed to enlist him as an informant.

A call to the agency’s local office in Minneapolis seeking for comments on the matter was not answered.

On February 14, Twin Cities Daily Planet interviewed Saroya via e-mail about the incident:

How many FBI agents visited your house?

Two.

How many questions did they ask you and what did they ask you about?

I asserted my rights — right to remain silent, right to have an attorney present, right to deny entry without a warrant.

In the release, the FBI agency said that that the purpose of the visit was “community outreach” and a “meet and greet.” What’s your comment?

The agent admitted that he is not even part of the FBI community outreach department, so it raises a lot of questions: Why is a field law enforcement officer who is not even part of the FBI outreach department conducting outreach? Why did they only do outreach to one house in the entire neighborhood? Why are Muslims and Somalis overwhelmingly getting these outreach visits?

Did you have similar experience with the agency in the past?

The FBI has never visited my home and they have no reason to.

Were you expecting this might happen one day because of the sensitive cases you deal with?

What’s most disturbing about this is that the FBI chose to use their limited resources to harass people who report the abuse rather than investigate and remedy the actual abuse. It’s counterproductive.

Has this happened to any CAIR staff in the past?

Muslim activists and leaders nationally and locally are visited by the FBI simply because of their active role in the Muslim community.

How does such act make you feel? Does this make think of quitting the work you do for the Muslim community in Minnesota or it motivates you to do more?

I deal with Islamophobes and other unpleasant people in my line of work on a daily basis. It takes a lot more to intimidate me. I am aware of the fishing expedition and coercive tactics that the FBI uses in the Muslim and Somali community. I have talked to hundreds of people in the Minnesota Muslim and Somali community who have been profiled or harassed by the FBI.

I do this work because I strongly believe in our nation’s laws and principles. So when I see unethical and unnecessary behavior that is not in line with our constitutional principles and our nation’s values, it motivates me to do more to fix it. We have to be principled and cannot allow fear to change who we are as a nation. Everyone, including Muslims and Somali Americans, has freedom of religion and freedom of speech in this country, and no one, including the FBI, can take that away. The law is on our side.

What is your message to the world and to other community leaders?

It’s very important for the community to be aware of FBI tactics. During a 2009 FBI investigation into Somali men who went abroad to join a terrorist organization, community members reported coercive tactics to CAIR-MN. Community members reported being stopped at random on the streets and in shopping malls; Somali businesses were raided; students were approached by federal agents in campus libraries; community leaders were denied boarding passes without due process; agents talked their way into homes without warrants; non-English-speaking Somalis were interviewed without translators; agents in unmarked cars staked out Somali mosques, and informants were allegedly sent inside mosques.

What would you like to add?

It is extremely important for all Muslims and Somalis to know their rights when law enforcement comes to their home:

  1. You have the right to have a lawyer present when speaking with law enforcement. This is true even if you are not a citizen. This is your legal right. Refusing to answer questions cannot be held against you and does not imply that you have something to hide.
  2. Law enforcement agents must possess a search warrant in order to enter your house. If they say they have a warrant, ask to see it before allowing them to enter. The warrant will specify exactly what can be searched. If they have a warrant, be courteous and polite and remember that you should never lie or provide false information to any law enforcement agencies. Lying to law enforcement agents is a federal crime and should never be done under any circumstance.
  3. American Muslims strongly support law enforcement and the protection of our national security. As Americans, we also value the civil rights of all Americans. All Americans have the constitutional right of due process and to be politically active. If you know of any criminal-activity taking place in your community, it is both your religious and civic duty to report it.