LIANE HANSEN, Host:
From member station KPCC, Alex Cohen reports.
ALEX COHEN: FBI Assistant Director John Miller.
JOHN MILLER: Within those communities, if there are people who see something suspicious, we want them to come forward and say, I saw something of concern. I heard something of concern. There's somebody I think you need to look at.
COHEN: Hussam Ayloush, CAIR's Southern California executive director, welcomes stronger ties with the FBI.
HUSSAM AYLOUSH: Well, the benefit for us was an importance of creating a venue, where the community can channel its concerns to government. Now, we have a way to talk to people from inside in a friendly environment.
COHEN: These symbiotic relationships were more than just professional. FBI agents attended Muslim weddings, family pool parties, they broke fast with Muslims during Ramadan. The FBI's John Miller.
MILLER: Some of those relationships transcended the official relationship between the representative of a certain group and the employee of the FBI and became true friendships.
COHEN: But then relations with CAIR began to falter. Six months ago, Hussam Ayloush says, shortly before George Bush left office, his local FBI representative took him out to lunch.
AYLOUSH: We went to our local restaurant in Anaheim - it's a Persian place called Hattam(ph). We all enjoyed the food, we enjoyed the ambiance there.
COHEN: But then came the news. Ayloush was told that the FBI was ending its relationship with CAIR and all of its local chapters nationwide.
AYLOUSH: We were taken by surprise at the sudden change in the attitude of the FBI. It's difficult to explain for us what happened. Was it a change in policies, especially in the last few weeks of the Bush administration.
MILLER: I think there is something disingenuous about the idea of a representative of CAIR saying, we don't know what this is about.
COHEN: The FBI's John Miller says his agency suspended its relationship with CAIR because of unanswered questions regarding its involvement with the charity called the Holy Land Foundation. In November of last year, five Holy Land leaders were convicted of supporting terrorism by funneling millions of dollars to the Palestinian militant group, Hamas.
MILLER: During the Holy Land Foundation trial, evidence was brought to bear that two of the founding members of CAIR, who were still in those positions at the time, were related to Hamas organizers. And the question that was raised was is CAIR going to be an appropriate liaison partner for the FBI if the two founding members, who are still in place, are maintaining that relationship with Hamas, a designated terrorist group?
COHEN: One of those founding members has since resigned. The other remains. Even so, Ayloush insists his group hasn't done anything illegal, and it has taken legal action to prove its innocence. But the Holy Land Foundation case isn't the only issue standing in the way of reconciliation between CAIR and the FBI. There's also this man.
CRAIG MONTEILH: I think it's very important that I come out as an informant, working for the FBI Joint Terrorism Taskforce, rather than be perceived as an apostate Muslim, for my own safety and the safety of my family.
COHEN: CAIR's Hussam Ayloush says there was no need to send a spy into houses of worship.
AYLOUSH: We've opened these mosques. These are very open, very transparent. They've invited the FBI heads to have lectures and talks there. The community felt very betrayed by this behavior.
COHEN: The FBI's John Miller is unrepentant.
MILLER: The FBI has used informants for its hundred years of service. If you want to know what is going on inside a terrorist group, you're not going to get that information just by coming up and asking people, will you please tell me all the laws you're breaking or violating.
COHEN: And this is where, once again, the two sides are at an impasse. Over the past few months, CAIR has voiced its concerns about the FBI throughout the greater Muslim community.
EDINA LEKOVIC: There are certainly people who are out there who say, you know, you've been betrayed. We've all been betrayed. Walk away.
COHEN: Edina Lekovic is the communications director at the Los Angeles chapter of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, or IMPACT. They, too, have worked with the FBI for many years, though, as Lekovic notes, many of their members now question whether the bureau can be trusted. But she adds, they've decided there's too much at stake to sever their ties.
LEKOVIC: I think that in times of controversy and in times of difficulties and challenges, is when we need to be talking the most. And that is really the test to me of what this relationship with the FBI is about.
COHEN: For NPR News, I'm Alex Cohen in Los Angeles.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.