The UC Irvine Police Department is investigating an incident in which members of the Muslim Student Union allege that a vehicle operated by an FBI agent attempted to assault several students near the Social Science Lecture Hall last Monday.
UCIPD Police Chief Paul Henisey confirmed that the FBI was conducting surveillance on a vehicle used by the MSU to transport a wall display it had built. The wall was the centerpiece for the club’s weeklong event ‘Israel: An Apartheid State,’ which involved speakers and demonstrations against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
At around 8 p.m. on Monday night, fourth-year economics major Yasser Ahmed noticed that a car with tinted windows on all sides had followed him to campus from where the MSU’s truck was parked off-campus and decided to approach the driver outside of SSLH.
‘I wanted to ask him why he was following me because we have a lot of suspicious characters and hate mail during this week,’ Ahmed said. ‘I thought, ‘Maybe I can get his license plate and tell the police.”
According to Ahmed, when he tried to ask the driver why he was following him, the driver attempted to physically move Ahmed out of the way with the car. Ahmed then called to people around him for help, including his friends in MSU who ran to the scene. When the crowd approached and Ahmed tried to take a picture of the car’s license plate, Ahmed says the car revved its engine and aggressively drove toward the crowd, forcing some of the members to jump out of the way.
‘Everything would have been prevented if the FBI guy had said, ‘I am part of law enforcement and doing an investigation,” Ahmed said. ‘But he was more concerned about nobody knowing who he was. Somebody could have gotten killed.’
Last year, the Irvine Muslim community was concerned that local FBI agents were watching the actions of Muslim students, prompting FBI Los Angeles Division Head J. Stephen Tidwell to speak at a mosque in Irvine, specifically to assure community members and students that the FBI was not conducting surveillance on Muslim Students Unions in Southern California.
‘An FBI agent was led to the MSU vehicle in the course of an investigation,’ said FBI Los Angeles Media Relations Representative Laura Eimiller. ‘The FBI is not investigating college students who are exercising First Amendment rights.’
Eimiller would not elaborate further on the FBI agent’s presence on campus and gave no comment on the altercation with the students, as it is still under investigation by the UCIPD.
‘I was shocked when I heard it was the FBI, truly shocked,’ said Assistant to the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Sally Peterson. ‘I know the club thinks someone gave [the FBI] a tip, but it was not the administration. I wouldn’t want anyone [conducting surveillance on clubs]. It creates concern for the students and puts pressure on them.’
After the car sped away from the crowd of MSU members on the SSLH service road, the driver made a right turn on Pereira, only to be stopped behind cars lined up at the stop sign in front of the Social Science Parking Lot. At this point, the police, who were already on campus to oversee MSU’s weeklong event, were heading toward the car to question the driver.
Ahmed said that at this point, he felt that the UCIPD had the situation under control and walked over to another police officer to give him the license plate number of the car, just in case.
Soon after, Ahmed and other MSU members approached the UCIPD officers to ask them about the driver. Ahmed claims that Officer Jared Kemper said that they had pulled over the wrong driver and that it was an Asian female. When asked about the plates, Ahmed says the cop told him that they had ‘run cold.’
‘One of my friends saw them pull over the right guy,’ Ahmed said. ‘I had heard [the phrase ‘run cold’] before, and that usually means it is an undercover cop. But the police officer said it’s either unregistered, stolen or new plates.’
Ahmed asked for the license plate number of the Asian female that the police officer had stopped but the officer said that he didn’t have it