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More than 80 Muslim groups urge federal investigation into spies

‘Did they break the law?’ said Edward Ahmed Mitchell, national deputy director of CAIR. ‘That is not for us to determine. That is for the Justice Department to determine.’

CAIR logo. Courtesy of CAIR

(RNS) — More than 80 American Muslim organizations are urging the U.S. Justice Department to launch an investigation into the Investigative Project on Terrorism, an organization that experts have identified as part of an effort to infiltrate and spy on the U.S. Muslim community.

The Jan. 31 letter was sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim civil rights group. CAIR is conducting its own internal investigation over claims it was spied on by IPT, which The Washington Post reported is considered an anti-Muslim hate group.

In December, CAIR’s Ohio chapter fired its director, Romin Iqbal, who, the organization said, had admitted to providing information to IPT in an incident that CAIR described as “spying.” 

A month later, CAIR also accused Tariq Nelson of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, one of the D.C. region’s largest mosques, of being an informant for IPT, saying he accepted $3,000 a month from IPT to provide information on Muslim Americans from 2008 to 2012.

RELATED: African American Muslims among those targeted by anti-Muslim group

The signers of the letter urge the Department of Justice to investigate whether Steve Emerson, the founder of IPT, broke federal civil rights statutes or criminal laws by targeting the Muslim community. 

The letter referred to the spying as a “systematic campaign” that affected “nearly every prominent Muslim organization in the U.S.,” including CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Legal Fund of America and other groups. 

“We are concerned that IPT’s alleged actions were meant to impact our community’s ability to religiously assemble and provide ministry; peacefully assemble to politically organize; petition the government; meet with state and federal elected officials; mobilize get out the vote campaigns; and defend the civil and constitutional rights of American Muslims through advocacy and legal representation,” the letter stated.

In a news conference Tuesday (Feb. 1), Edward Ahmed Mitchell, national deputy director of CAIR, said his group had found out about the spying through an IPT whistleblower who made CAIR aware of a mole inside the organization. Mitchell said CAIR learned IPT “had been spending years spying on the broader Muslim community.”

“The point of all of this was to undermine the Muslim community to make sure we would never become politically, civically strong enough to change American foreign policy,” Mitchell said during the news conference.

RELATED: Muslim civil rights group fires director for spying for anti-Muslim activists

“Did they break the law?” Mitchell added. “That is not for us to determine. That is for the Justice Department to determine.”

Muslim Advocates, the Muslim League of Voters, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Muslim Alliance in North America were among the organizations that signed the letter. Islamic centers from California, Florida, New Jersey, Chicago and Detroit also signed it.

Reporter Joseph Hammond contributed to this report.

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