Local FBI Chief Rebuilds Trust With Muslim Leaders

December 1, 2008

Author: Stephen Magagnini

Source: The Sacramento Bee


For months, Sacramento's top FBI agent kept a Muslim prayer rug in his office.

It was for Imam Mohamed Abdul Azeez, religious leader of the SALAM Islamic Center in Sacramento, who attended a citizens' academy with Drew Parenti at the FBI office.

Parenti hasn't converted to Islam. He's been trying to convert Muslim leaders who might be suspicious of his agency after 9/11 and the Lodi terrorism case.

And, after years of distrust, Azeez and other local Muslims believe they have found a friend in Parenti.

The local FBI chief has visited several of the area's 14 mosques, ready to answer tough questions. He also has recruited an Egyptian Muslim agent who is known to the community and worships regularly at SALAM (Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims) and other local mosques.

Local FBI agents and Muslim American leaders now come together "through friendship and partnership, not eavesdropping," Azeez said. "It's not us against them, 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.

"He's the guy with the gun," Azeez said. "If he puts a smile on his face and approaches you humbly, you're going to open up right away."

Now, the imam and the FBI agent plan to travel around California and the nation, to show other communities how to build similar partnerships.