The Federal Bureau of Investigation has presented its Community Leadership Award to Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez, spiritual leader of the SALAM (Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims) Islamic center in the capital city of California. Drew Parenti, the FBI special agent who nominated Abdul Azeez for the award, struck up a friendship with the imam in the wake of a local terrorist case, and holds the local leader in high regard.
“The award is for preventing violence, creating understanding, bringing people together, and that’s what Mohamed Azeez brings,” Parenti told reporters. “He’s a dynamic community leader, irrespective of religion. Sacramento is truly blessed to have a leader with the vision, energy and compassion demonstrated by Mr. Azeez.”
The special agent in charge of the FBI’s Sacramento office also said that “it’s no secret there is a degree nationally of mistrust, misunderstanding and miscommunication between not just the FBI but the federal government in general and the Muslim community. Imam Azeez should be commended for his willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue.”
Irfan Haq, president of Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations, called Abul-Azeez “a truly outstanding man who represents mainstream Islam and has done a tremendous amount of outreach work.” Haq also told the Sacramento Bee that “It is also very healthy for the FBI to recognize there are those in the Muslim leadership making an effort to build bridges and reach out and help build a better and safer society… There is a certain climate of tension with the FBI on the national level.”
Special agent Parenti has been a friend of Mohamed Abdul-Azeez since a recent terrorism case in Lodi, California. In 2006, American-born Hamid Hayat was sentenced to 24 years for supporting terrorism. He had traveled to Pakistan for jihad training in firearms. His father, Umer Hayat, also a U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty to lying to customs agents while carrying $28,000 into Pakistan. He also admitted to FBI agents that he approved of the killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
Drew Parenti became head of the FBI’s Sacramento office shortly after the arrest of the Hayats. He inherited the case, which Abdul-Azeez said would not have happened under a more cooperative approach with the FBI.
“It’s not us against them,” Abdul-Azeez told the Sacramento Bee, “and by working together, it’s having a profound effect on preventing another 9⁄11. Prevention’s not about phone-tapping and visiting people at 3 a.m. It’s about being friends with the community.” Parenti, a veteran of anti-drug operations in Mexico, filled that role.
Parenti made no apology for the way the Lodi case was conducted or prosecuted, but he went the second mile to calm local Muslims, and for a time even kept a Muslim prayer rug in his office. He visited mosques in the Sacramento area.
“The overwhelming majority” of Muslims, Parenti told the Sacramento Bee last year, “want the same things we all want – they want safety for themselves, for their family… They want the freedom to express their views and pursue their faith without fear of retribution or harassment… There’s the same exact sense of shared American values that everybody else has.”
The agent’s campaign met with approval from local representatives of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic relations. No cases similar to the Hayats have surfaced in Sacramento but the federal government is moving to seize the Qoba Foundation Islamic Center in nearby Carmichael, charging that it is a front for the Iranian government. Those who worship at the center claim to know nothing about any Iranian connection.
Sacramento is also one of four American cities with branches of As-Sabiqun. (The others are Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Philadelphia.) The group, based in Washington DC, defends Ford Hood gunman Nidal Malik Hasan as a victim, supports Hamas and Hizbullah, and calls for an “Islamic State of North America” by 2050. A report by the Investigative Project on Terrorism quotes As-Sabiqun leader Imam Abdul Alim Musa that “America is finished” and that “the war is already won. They just have to fall over.”
No news stories have appeared about FBI dealings with the Sacramento branch of this organization. They do not appear to share “the same exact sense of American values that everybody else has,” that FBI agent Drew Parenti finds in the vast majority of Muslims, and Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez in particular.
Abdul-Azeez will receive his Community Leadership Award in March, in Washington, from FBI director Robert Mueller. The agency appears to believe that people should be rewarded for what they should be doing as a matter of course. Whether that approach will help avoid terrorist recruitment or attacks remains to be seen.
Mueller, meanwhile, is conducting an investigation into the November 5 massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, involving Major Nidal Malik Hasan, charged with killing 13 people and wounding 32. This investigation has been portrayed as difficult but it is already known, among other things, that the Army psychiatrist did not share the same American values as everybody else.