The National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF), of which BORDC/DDF is a founding member, supports prisoners who have been targets of FBI sting operations because of their Muslim faith or outspoken political views. For many, the sting operation crossed the line to entrapment: the FBI paid informant provided the encouragement, materials, funding and planning for what would turn out to be a fake terror plot designed to ensnare the target.
The legal department at NCPCF has filed Clemency Petitions for five prisoners, and is actively supporting two others. The Petitions ask President Obama to free these men, but to be successful, these prisoners will need help. The President needs to know that they have widespread support.
Please take a few minutes to learn about each of these men, and to sign the petitions in support of the Clemency Petitions filed on their behalf.
Yassin Aref, an Iraqi Kurdish imam who came to Albany, NY as a UN-sponsored refugee in 1999, was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in an unjust FBI sting operation based on false suspicions that he might be connected to Al Qaeda. (It was learned via FOIA that this was a case of mistaken identity.)
In 2003 the government sent a “confidential informant” (CI) to entrap Yassin by offering a loan to his friend and getting Yassin to witness the loan, a common undertaking among Muslims. The CI was supposed to say the loan involved laundering the proceeds of the sale of a missile to a terrorist group, but he never told Yassin that there was anything illegal about the loan, and the government recordings at trial show Yassin believed the loan was completely legal. Yassin never did or said anything to show support for terrorism, and he was acquitted of most of the counts, but convicted of money laundering and material support for terrorism.
Khalifa al-Akili’s story is told in the remarkable documentary (T)error which follows the sting operation as it unfolds. Al-Akili was living in Pittsburgh when he became the target of a sting operation by an FBI informant who doggedly pursued him, but was unable to convince him to participate in any terror plot. He recognized that the man who was trying to befriend him might be an FBI informant, so he reached out to Project Salam (a member of NCPCF) for help. NCPCF organized a press conference to expose the sting operation against al-Akili, but the day before it was to happen, he was arrested. He is now in jail on gun charges (for holding a gun at a firing range). He accepted a plea deal to serve eight years.
Tarik Shah, an observant Muslim, a well-known jazz bass player who played at President Clinton’s inauguration, and a self-defense trainer and martial arts teacher in New York City, was approached by three separate informants, beginning in 2001, who tried to get him to do something illegal. After the first informant failed to engage Tarik in illegal activity, in 2003 the second informant, Theodore Shelby aka “Saeed,” an ex-convict and former Black Panther, asked Tarik to give him music lessons and eventually moved into Tarik’s home with him, tape-recording every conversation. Shelby then introduced Tarik to a supposed Al-Qaeda recruiter (the third informant, who was actually an undercover FBI agent), who offered Tarik $1,000 a week if he would agree to train jihadists in martial arts. Tarik agreed, although he did not accept any money.
The New York Times wrote that the “plot…was almost entirely talk…No weapons appear to have been bought, and no martial arts training took place.” The “plot” continued for two years and became a joint FBI/NYPD sting operation.
Tarik was finally arrested in May 2005 and was held in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC) in New York until 2007. Facing a thirty-year sentence, and realizing that he could not get a fair trial and would be found guilty by association, he pleaded guilty in 2007 to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, with a scheduled release date of 2018.
Rezwan Ferdaus is a young Muslim man from Massachusetts whose mental illness was taken advantage of by the FBI in order to entrap him. Rezwan, a very intelligent young man with a Muslim father and Catholic mother, was studying Physics at Northeastern University in 2006 when he began to suffer from a serious mental illness, experiencing paranoia and hallucinations.
As Rezwan’s condition worsened in 2010, and he began to avoid nearly all human contact, an FBI informant entered his life. Despite the FBI’s knowledge of Rezwan’s illness, the informant worked on him and essentially became the only “friend” he had left. The informant started talking to Rezwan about a plan to attack government buildings with a small explosive-filled drone. Rezwan’s comments in the government-recorded conversations show someone who is delusional – for instance, he talked about he and the informant taking over the country by using their drone (which the FBI paid for). At one point in February 2011 the informant complained to the FBI that Rezwan was “acting crazy.”
By September, 2011 Rezwan was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depression and put on medication. He began improving, but was arrested by the FBI on September 28, 2011, despite the fact that he had told the informant in August that he was too sick and wanted to back out of the plot.
Rezwan eventually pled guilty and was sentenced to 17 years. The FBI took advantage of Rezwan’s delusions and suggestibility in order to create a case against him. When he started getting treatment he began improving but was then suddenly arrested.
Shahawar Matin Siraj is a young Muslim man from New York City who was preyed upon by an FBI informant who took advantage of his intellectual deficits and inflamed him with images of atrocities against Muslims. The informant later told a Washington Post Reporter that he was so good at manipulating people “to get them to the point” of committing a crime that he should have been paid more than the $100,000 the FBI gave him.
The informant inflamed Matin by showing him photos of the abuses by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib and telling him it was Islamically lawful to “kill the killers.” Despite this, Matin said on the government recordings that he did not want to kill anyone, but only to cause economic damage. And then, after the informant had convinced him to participate in a fake plot to place a bomb at a subway station, Matin said he had to ask his mother before he could do anything. Soon afterwards, he was arrested. Matin was sentenced to 30 years, he has served nearly 12 years.
Mohammed Saleh is extremely deserving of clemency. He has been locked up for over 22 years for a very minor role in an early FBI sting operation. He meets the criteria for Obama’s Clemency Project because were he to be sentenced today, it would be a much shorter sentence.
This case was a sting operation where a very troubled informant was paid over a million dollars to set up several people, some of whom were suspected of having ties to violent groups. Mohammed had no such ties and played an extremely minor role in the case. (He owned two gas stations and others in the group bought fuel oil from him on two occasions.)
Mohammed was offered a five-year plea deal but his attorney told him he should be acquitted if he went to trial. He did so and was convicted and sentenced to 35 years.
Mohammed Saleh has been a model prisoner despite having spent over ten years in solitary confinement based only on the nature of his offense.
Mohammed Hossain, a naturalized American citizen originally from Bangladesh, was entrapped in the same unjust FBI sting operation that ensnared Yassin Aref. The FBI had no interest in pursuing Mohammed but only used him to get to his co-defendant, Yassin Aref, about whom the government had (ultimately baseless) suspicions. A slippery and dishonest “confidential informant” (CI) offered Mohammed a loan, and said that since the CI was rich and “wanted to help his Muslim brothers,” Mohammed would not have to repay the entire amount.
Mohammed was struggling financially to support his large extended family with the meager income from a failing pizza business and some rundown rental properties, and naively didn’t question the CI’s “generosity.” The CI dropped hints that he was involved with a terrorist group called JEM, but Mohammed had never heard of JEM and initially thought it was a musical group.
Although the CI once showed Mohammed a (deactiviated) missile supplied by the FBI, Mohammed did not react positively to it, and never understood that the missile had anything to do with the loan. When asked if he would help transport the missile, Mohammed said he had no interest in anything like that, and never voiced any support for violence. Significantly, at the sentencing, the judge said that he knew Mohammed had no interest in supporting terrorism.