Holder Reassures Muslims, Defends FBI Sting Operations

Attorney General Eric Holder used a speech before a Muslim advocacy group near San Francisco to reiterate his resolve to prosecute hate crimes while standing behind the methods used in anti-terrorism cases during a speech Friday night before a Muslim advocacy group near San Francisco.

Speaking to Muslim Advocates during their annual dinner in Millbrae, Holder said he's heard from many Muslim and Arab Americans who feel uneasy and singled out by law enforcement.

The organization is one of several groups voicing concerns over hate crimes, alleged rights violations and the use of stings in anti-terrorism cases.

Carefully-crafted sting operations by FBI and Justice Department officials have included plots against a Portland, Ore., Christmas celebration, Dallas skyscrapers, Washington subways, a Chicago nightclub and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Undercover operatives in these cases have let suspects make clear they wanted to carry out an attack and gave them a chance to change their mind, according to authorities.

Holder told the group he would make "no apologies" for the handling of the case against Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, a Somali-born Muslim accused of plotting to set off a bomb in Oregon.

Mohamud was arrested Nov. 26 for attempting to blow up a car full of FBI-planted fake explosives near a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland. The FBI set up a sting operation to investigate Mohamud after receiving a tip months before.

"Those who characterize the FBI's activities in this case as "entrapment" simply do not have their facts straight or do not have a full understanding of the law," Holder told the group

Once the undercover operation began, the suspect "chose at every step to continue" with the bombing plot, Holder said following Mohamud’s indictment

"He was told that children -- children -- were potentially going to be harmed," the attorney general had said.

Mohamud has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder of federal officers and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

After Mohamud’s arrest, someone set fire to an Islamic center where he worshipped, prompting fears in the Muslim community of negative backlash to the attempted attack.

Critics have called the stings entrapment of people who otherwise couldn't have carried out an attack and said the government has been enticing Muslims into terrorism.

"We have very serious concerns about FBI surveillance tactics that are used. We believe that law enforcement has an important job to protect us as a country but they should do so mindful of the rules of justice and fairness that are at the core of our criminal justice system," said Muslim Advocates executive director Farhana Khera, who invited Holder to speak to the group.

Despite the differences of opinion, Holder received strong applause and a standing ovation. Attendees said they felt reassured by his remarks on protecting the civil liberties of Muslim Americans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.