Ten­sions rise again at UC Irvine

Univer­sity po­lice probe whether an FBI agent nudged a Mus­lim stu­dent with a car.

Los Angeles Times - - California - By H.G. Reza

UC Irvine’s chief of po­lice said Fri­day that his of­fi­cers were in­ves­ti­gat­ing a com­plaint that an FBI agent do­ing sur­veil­lance as­saulted a Mus­lim stu­dent with his un­marked car near the site of an anti-Is­rael demon­stra­tion.

The al­leged in­ci­dent Mon­day has ratch­eted up ten­sion be­tween the univer­sity’s Mus­lim stu­dents and the FBI. In May 2006, an FBI agent was quoted as telling a busi­ness group in New­port Beach that the agency was mon­i­tor­ing Mus­lims at UC Irvine and USC. Her com­ments led to protests from stu­dents and par­ents who said Mus­lims were be­ing sin­gled out.

J. Stephen Tid­well, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor in charge of the FBI in Los An­ge­les, met with stu­dents and par­ents at an Irvine mosque to as­sure them there was no mon­i­tor­ing of their com­mu­nity. How­ever, Tid­well did not say the agent was mis­quoted. The skep­ti­cal au­di­ence was not con­vinced, and this week’s con­tro­versy has led to new com­plaints.

FBI spokes­woman Laura Eimiller said the agent was “in the course of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that brought him to the cam­pus” but de­clined to elab­o­rate. She said the agency would not com­ment fur­ther while the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was un­der­way. “But I can tell you we don’t mon­i­tor stu­dents ex­er­cis­ing their 1st Amend­ment rights,” she said.

The al­leged in­ci­dent has led to “a de­gree of emo­tion and con­cern” on cam­pus, said UC Irvine Po­lice Chief Paul Henisey.

Se­nior Yasser Ahmed said a sil­ver Ford Tau­rus fol­lowed him as he drove a 24-foot mov­ing van from a nearby park­ing lot to UC Irvine’s Free Speech Zone to pick up an ex­hibit spon­sored by the Mus­lim Stu­dent Union. The group had spon­sored a week­long pre­sen­ta­tion, “Is­rael: Apartheid Res­ur­rected,” to protest that coun­try’s poli­cies against the Pales­tini­ans.

Ahmed, 21, said he got out of the truck, walked to the car and asked the driver why he was fol­low­ing him. The driver did not re­spond, Ahmed said, and he tried to snap a photo of the li­cense plate with his cell­phone cam­era. At that point, Ahmed said, the car nudged him with its front bumper and he got out of the way. He was not in­jured.

The man be­hind the wheel drove off but was stopped al­most im­me­di­ately by a cam­pus po­lice of­fi­cer, who had re­sponded to cries for help from Ahmed and other stu­dents. The driver iden­ti­fied him­self as an FBI agent “who was do­ing sur­veil­lance,” Henisey said.

On Fri­day, Ahmed, an eco­nomics ma­jor and life­long Orange County res­i­dent, said he was still reel­ing.

“He didn’t open his win­dow and didn’t let me know who he was. He never said any­thing,” Ahmed said. “All he had to say was that he was FBI or law en­force­ment and this wouldn’t have hap­pened. I was fright­ened. He pushed me with the car, which had tinted win­dows and then tried to drive away. What’s one sup­posed to think?”

Henisey said cam­pus of­fi­cers were in­ter­view­ing wit­nesses.

“There are po­ten­tial crim­i­nal al­le­ga­tions, and we’re still not cer­tain what hap­pened,” he said. “We’re try­ing to de­ter­mine if there was an as­sault and if the ve­hi­cle was used.”

The chief said in­ves­ti­ga­tors were also look­ing into an al­le­ga­tion that a cin­der block was thrown at the FBI agent’s car.

Hus­sam Ay­loush, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia chap­ter of the Coun­cil on Amer­i­can Is­lamic Re­la­tions in Ana­heim, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion had been in dis­cus­sions with the FBI for the last few days.

“Some par­ents are ask­ing, again, ‘What’s the FBI do­ing on cam­pus?’ They’re also chal­leng­ing my cred­i­bil­ity,” said Ay­loush, who ar­ranged last year’s meet­ing with Tid­well. “The par­ents are re­mind­ing me that Tid­well said the FBI doesn’t mon­i­tor stu- dents, and they’re de­mand­ing an­swers from me.”

Ay­loush said he asked Tid­well to con­duct an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the agent’s con­duct, es­pe­cially his ini­tial re­fusal to iden­tify him­self. The agency has yet to re­spond, he said.

UC Irvine has a his­tory of ten­sion be­tween Mus­lim and Jewish stu­dents. In 2003, a Holo­caust me­mo­rial was van­dal­ized, and the next year an anti-Zion­ism ex­hibit was burned down.

This year, the Hil­lel Foun­da­tion of Orange County launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of al­leged an­tiSemitic in­ci­dents on cam­pus and blamed Mus­lim stu­dents for dis­rupt­ing a Jan. 31 lec­ture by Mid­dle East scholar Daniel Pipes.

The U.S. Of­fice for Civil Rights also is in­ves­ti­gat­ing an­tiSemitism at UC Irvine, the first probe of its kind at a col­lege. Mus­lim stu­dents have said Jewish stu­dents con­sider any crit­i­cism of the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment anti-Semitic.

hgreza@la­times.com

Don Bartletti Los An­ge­les Times

COM­PLAINT: Yasser Ahmed, 21, says he was pushed by a car af­ter ask­ing why he was be­ing fol­lowed. “He pushed me with the car and then tried to drive away. What’s one sup­posed to think?”

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