MILLBRAE, Calif. — Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has defended the use of sting operations orchestrated by government informers, telling advocates for the civil rights of American Muslims on Friday night that the tactic is an “essential law enforcement tool in uncovering and preventing terror attacks.”
On Saturday, Muslim community groups said they appreciated Mr. Holder's effort at outreach, but emphasized their opposition to the tactic he defended. The method involves building cases against Muslims by using undercover agents who suggest violent and nonviolent ways to help the cause of Islam. In recent cases, the suspects are accused of choosing the violent.
In a 20-minute speech delivered in this suburb of San Francisco at the annual dinner of Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy and civil rights organization, Mr. Holder rejected criticism by such groups that sting operations amount to improper entrapment.
Muslim leaders were unmoved.
“We maintain concerns about F.B.I. policies regarding informants in mosques and provocateurs in the community,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights and advocacy group based in Washington.
About 300 Muslim community leaders from around the United States attended the dinner. Having a United States attorney general speak at such an event was unprecedented, the president of Muslim Advocates, Farhana Khera, said in an interview earlier Friday.
Mr. Holder was given a standing ovation as he took the stage, and many applauded during his speech. But the room fell silent for several minutes while Mr. Holder defended the sting operation in an Oregon bombing case last month, calling it a “successful undercover operation” and not a case of entrapment.
Those who think otherwise, he said, “simply do not have their facts straight.”
Mr. Hooper said the outreach on Friday had been long overdue. Muslims in the United States, he said, have been disappointed with what they consider lukewarm efforts on the part of the Obama administration to follow talk with action — on subjects like closing the detainee prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and policies toward Israel, for example. Mr. Obama has also been less willing to show support for Muslims domestically, he said, never making a public visit to a mosque.
Ms. Khera said the group invited Mr. Holder several months ago. She portrayed American Muslims as torn by a mistrust of law enforcement because of what they see as intrusive surveillance and harassment and by their concerns about anti-Muslim hate crimes.
Mr. Holder said the cooperation of Muslims had been essential in preventing terrorist attacks.
He said that the Justice Department was focusing on “violence, threats, vandalism and arson against Muslims and Arab-Americans,” and that in the past fiscal year federal prosecutors had won hate-crime convictions for more defendants than in any year but 2000.
“I believe that law enforcement has an obligation to ensure that members of every religious community enjoy the ability to worship and to practice their faith in peace,” Mr. Holder said, “free from intimidation, violence or suspicion.”
But he also rejected criticism of some counterterrorism techniques used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including sending informers into mosques in search of would-be terrorists and creating elaborate sting operations enabling them to carry out fake attacks using dummy bombs.
Ms. Khera emphasized that Muslim Advocates recognized that “there are actual threats that do exist, and as Americans who care about the country, we want law enforcement to be effective.”
But the complex “entrapment operations,” she said, may be getting people involved in terrorism who otherwise would not have done anything. She also argued that the operations divert investigators from “actual threats” and stoke “anti-Muslim sentiment.”
At a reception after the speech, many in the audience voiced their gratitude for Mr. Holder's presence, saying it would help rebuild trust between law enforcement officials and Muslims.
“This is a positive step toward engaging a vital community and perhaps one of the most important partners in combating extremism and terrorism in America,” said Wajahat Ali, 30, a lawyer and playwright from Fremont, Calif. “He said exactly what needed to be said. Now those words need to be translated into action.”
Source: New York Times