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Attorney General Eric Holder defends legality of FBI stings against Muslim groups

On Tuesday, Holder said, nearly a third of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys met in Washington to coordinate the effort.

Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy and educational organization, invited Holder to speak after meeting with him in September at the height of the controversy over whether a proposed mosque should be built near Ground Zero in Manhattan. The organization's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Justice Department, filed in September 2009, is pending in federal court in the District.

The lawsuit is seeking full public disclosure of FBI investigative guidelines for when and how agents can engage in surveillance.

Justice Department officials declined to comment on the case.

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, criticized FBI and Justice Department tactics in terrorism cases, saying in an interview that they "divert precious law enforcement resources from actual threats and have the effect of stoking anti-Muslim sentiments."

She praised Holder for his stand against anti-Muslim bigotry and said his speech was "the continuation of a much-needed constructive and productive dialogue between the Justice Department and the Muslim community."

In his speech, Holder said, "On behalf of our nation's Justice Department, I am grateful to count you as partners in our work to promote tolerance, to ensure public safety and to protect civil rights.'' He called for "a new level of respect and understanding - between law enforcement and Muslim and Arab American communities."

But he was firm in supporting the tactics used against Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who is charged in the Oregon case.

"Mr. Mohamud's arrest was the result of a successful undercover operation - a critical and frequently used law enforcement tool," Holder said. "Because of law enforcement's outstanding work, Mr. Mohamud is no longer plotting attacks. He is now behind bars. And he will be brought to justice."

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