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Restraining order bars man from Irvine mosque

Worshipers say they reported him to authorities after he asked to become a convert and began talking about jihad.

June 30, 2007|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

At the beginning, worshipers at the Islamic Center of Irvine said, they thought Craig Monteilh was just an overzealous convert when he criticized U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. But when he started talking about jihad and dropped oblique references to violence, congregants contacted authorities.

On Friday, an Orange County judge issued a restraining order barring Monteilh from going near the mosque and its employees. Members of the mosque testified Friday in court that the FBI opened an investigation earlier this month.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to confirm or deny that an investigation was underway.

Monteilh, 44, has not responded to numerous telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment and did not appear at the hearing. He told mosque members he worked as a personal fitness trainer.

In interviews and testimony at Friday's hearing, four men said Monteilh appeared at the Islamic Center in September and said he wanted to convert.

Mohammad Elsisy, a mosque volunteer who teaches Arabic, said Monteilh wanted to be called Farouk Monteilh and appeared eager to learn about Islam.

But earlier this year, Monteilh began shifting religious discussions to jihad, or holy war, talking about "operations" against U.S. military targets, and suggested that he had access to weapons, said Ashruf Zied. No weapons were seen, Zied said in an interview.

"I said, 'Dude, stop right there, What are you talking about?' " said Zied, a software engineer who said that he was born in Ohio and that his father worked for NATO. "I was trying to steer the guy in the right direction. He was talking about something that's taboo."

Zied, who testified at the court hearing, said that he was frightened by Monteilh's rhetoric, and that it was the last discussion between the two.

They used to socialize, but after that talk, Zied said, he changed his phone number so Monteilh could not contact him.

Former Islamic Center president Asim Khan testified that several worshipers felt threatened by Monteilh and that he talked about getting involved "in a 9/11-type operation."

Some stopped attending mosque because of him, Khan said.

"We're members of the American community, and it's our duty as Americans to make law enforcement aware of these activities," he testified.

In an interview, Elsisy recalled driving Monteilh and another Muslim to Friday prayers at King Fahd Mosque in Culver City. The three men discussed the war in Iraq.

"It was a serious discussion. But when [Monteilh] asked if we knew of an operation because he was ready to help us, the conversation stopped," said Elsisy, an architect.

Elsisy said he and the other man reported Monteilh's comments to mosque officials.

The Islamic Center of Irvine has had a contentious relationship with the FBI. Members believe the mosque is under surveillance, a charge that the agency had denied.

J. Stephen Tidwell, FBI assistant director in Los Angeles, presided at a town hall meeting at the mosque in June 2006 and assured the community that there was no monitoring going on.

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hgreza@latimes.com

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