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FBI kept tabs on Muhammad Ali over Nation of Islam association - released Bureau papers

Published:Saturday | December 17, 2016 | 12:56 PM
In this February 25, 1968, file photo, former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali speaks at a Black Muslim convention in Chicago. Seated behind Ali is Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam. - AP

The Voice (UK):
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has released memos showing it kept tabs on boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 1966 while investigating religious group Nation of Islam.

The FBI made the information public on its website, posting about 140 pages of documents including details on his divorce and a speech at a Miami mosque.

The papers, using Ali's birth name of Cassius Clay, included a request for agents to monitor his divorce from his first wife as a "lead."

A memo said:

"The Miami office is requested to follow the divorce action between Cassius and Sonja Clay with particular emphasis being placed on any NOI (Nation of Islam) implication being brought into this matter."

Another memo on a speech Ali gave in 1966 at a mosque said the boxer had discussed efforts to strip him of his heavyweight title and blamed the "white man."

That controversy centred on his refusal to be drafted into the army during the Vietnam War on the grounds that he was a conscientious objector. He was stripped of his title a year later. After a successful legal battle, Ali regained the title in 1974.

The documents show Ali was not personally under investigation but was of interest because of his connection to the Nation of Islam, itself under investigation at the time.

A memo said the bureau was interested in his activities "from an intelligence standpoint".

Ali died, at age 74, in June after his life in the ring and subsequent activism made him one of the world's best-known celebrities. He was mourned across the globe.

READ: Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali is dead

The FBI has been criticised for its monitoring of public figures, including civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior and former Beatle John Lennon, in the turbulent political times of the 1960s and 1970s.