A week after it was revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sent informants to infiltrate Orange County mosques, Muslims in southern California are expressing anger and distrust over the use of deceit in their spiritual life.

Despite the reaction, former FBI agents and federal prosecutors say spying on mosques is still one of the government’s best weapons to thwart terrorists and that the benefit to national security is likely to far outweigh any embarrassment to the agency. “What matters to the FBI is preventing a massive attack that might be planned by some people … using the mosque or church as a shield because they believe they’re safe there,” said Robert Blitzer, the FBI’s former counterterrorism chief.

Several Muslim advocacy groups are demanding inquiry into the situation, as many say the news has rattled their faith in American democracy. “Some average Muslims interested only in praying are avoiding mosques for fear of somehow being monitored or profiled. Everybody is afraid, and it is leading to an infringement of the free practice of our religion,” says Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim, California.

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