New details have emerged about the FBI’s efforts to turn Muslim Americans living abroad into government informants. An exposé in Mother Jones magazine chronicles the story of an American named named Naji Mansour who was living in Kenya. After he refused to become an informant, he saw his life, and his family’s life, turned upside down. He was detained, repeatedly interrogated and ultimately forced into exile in Sudan, unable to see his children for years. Mansour began recording his conversations with the FBI. During one call, an agent informs Mansour that he might get “hit by a car.” Mansour’s story is the focus of a new piece in Mother Jones titled “This American Refused to Become an FBI Informant. Then the Government Made His Family’s Life Hell.” We speak with Naji Mansour in Sudan and Nick Baumann, who investigated the story for Mother Jones.
PLANTATION, Fla. — Standing on a Pakistani mountainside with a suspected Taliban fighter, FBI undercover informant David Mahmood Siddiqui remembers thinking, he could have been sent hurtling off a cliff to his death with just a nudge. In such dangerous situations, Siddiqui said he always tried to hold a Quran tightly in his hands.
“As long as you have a Quran in your hands,” he told The Associated Press in an interview Friday, “they (the Taliban) will not harm you.”
Siddiqui, a 58-year-old Pakistani-American who became a U.S. citizen in 1977, spent four years helping the FBI build its case against Hafiz Muhammad Sher Ali Khan, who was convicted Monday of terrorism support and conspiracy charges. Evidence during his two-month trial showed that Khan, the 77-year-old imam at a Miami mosque, funneled about $50,000 to the Pakistani Taliban, listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S.
Siddiqui wore an FBI wire to record thousands of conversations with Khan. Prosecutors made heavy use of the evidence Siddiqui gathered, playing dozens of those recordings in court.
Wearing the wire to surreptitiously record talks with Khan was dangerous enough. But in September 2010, the FBI sent Siddiqui to Pakistan’s Swat Valley to meet up with some of people who were getting Khan’s money. With Khan’s grandson Alam Zeb as his driver — Zeb is a suspected Taliban fighter also indicted by the U.S. in the Khan case — Siddiqui spent three weeks gathering intelligence.
NEW YORK — A paid informant for the New York Police Department’s intelligence unit was under orders to “bait” Muslims into saying inflammatory things as he lived a double life, snapping pictures inside mosques and collecting the names of innocent people attending study groups on Islam, he told The Associated Press.
Shamiur Rahman, a 19-year-old American of Bangladeshi descent who has now denounced his work as an informant, said police told him to embrace a strategy called “create and capture.” He said it involved creating a conversation about jihad or terrorism, then capturing the response to send to the NYPD. For his work, he earned as much as $1,000 a month and goodwill from the police after a string of minor marijuana arrests.
“We need you to pretend to be one of them,” Rahman recalled the police telling him. “It’s street theater.”
Rahman said he now believes his work as an informant against Muslims in New York was “detrimental to the Constitution.” After he disclosed to friends details about his work for the police — and after he told the police that he had been contacted by the AP — he stopped receiving text messages from his NYPD handler, “Steve,” and his handler’s NYPD phone number was disconnected.
Rahman’s account shows how the NYPD unleashed informants on Muslim neighborhoods, often without specific targets or criminal leads. Much of what Rahman said represents a tactic the NYPD has denied using.
The AP corroborated Rahman’s account through arrest records and weeks of text messages between Rahman and his police handler. The AP also reviewed the photos Rahman sent to police. Friends confirmed Rahman was at certain events when he said he was there, and former NYPD officials, while not personally familiar with Rahman, said the tactics he described were used by informants.
Rahman said he eventually tired of spying on his friends, noting that at times they delivered food to needy Muslim families. He said he once identified another NYPD informant spying on him. He took $200 more from the NYPD and told them he was done as an informant. He said the NYPD offered him more money, which he declined. He told friends on Facebook in early October that he had been a police spy but had quit. He also traded Facebook messages with Shahbaz, admitting he had spied on students at John Jay.
NEW YORK — The president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice said he is “deeply troubled” about reports that the New York Police Department sent a paid informant to spy on the school’s club for Muslim students.
School President Jeremy Travis sent a letter to students and professors Thursday reacting to an Associated Press report on the 19-year-old informant, Shamiur Rahman, who said he quit working for the NYPD at the end of the summer after growing uncomfortable with the job.
Rahman said his assignments included attending lectures hosted by John Jay’s Muslim Student Association, photographing people attending its events, and identifying its members and leaders.
In the letter, Travis said he was unaware of the spying, and expressed concerns about using informants for surveillance where there was no evidence of a crime.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended the department’s intelligence-gathering operation as necessary to root out any potential terrorist plots.
As the case of five men charged with plotting to blow up a Cleveland-area bridge goes forward, one of the key questions will revolve around the role of the FBI’s confidential informant in the case. That informant was at the center of discussions and, according to at least one defense lawyer, may have been too active.
The five men are scheduled to appear in federal court Monday for a hearing on charges including conspiracy and trying to bomb property used in interstate commerce. The government alleges that the group was involved in an anarchist plot to make a violent political statement against the wealthy and powerful in time for May Day, which honors workers’ struggles around the world. If convicted, each faces more than 20 years in prison.
All are expected to plead not guilty. The bigger question will be their defense, and one lawyer has already called into question the role of the person expected to be the key witness, a confidential informant. Such a defense would be similar to that of other terrorism-type cases involving a sting or the use of an informant.
WILMINGTON, N.C. — A North Carolina man must stand trial in a plot to hire a hit man to behead three witnesses from his brother’s terrorism case, a federal magistrate judge ruled on Friday.
Following a day-long preliminary hearing, federal Magistrate Judge Robert B. Jones Jr. also ordered Shkumbin Sherifi held without bond.
Sherifi, 21, was arrested last weekend after FBI agents tracked him to a Jan. 8 meeting in the parking lot of a Wilmington Food Lion grocery store with a government informant posing as the representative of a hit man. He is accused of paying the informant $4,250 toward the first killing while his mother waited nearby in a Honda minivan.
News Agencies – May 20, 2011
A high-profile CSIS and RCMP informant who was crucial to the prosecution in the “Toronto 18” terror plot is confident his name will be cleared after Canadian authorities flagged him to U.S. authorities as a potential security threat. Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks link Mubin Shaikh to those convicted in the case in a list provided to U.S. authorities for security databases and watchlists.
He was one of nine people flagged who were not arrested in connection with the thwarted terror plot, which aimed to attack Parliament Hill, power grids and other targets. Despite the absence of charges, the nine were still highlighted to U.S. authorities as presenting a terror threat. “My position is it’s a mistake,” Mr. Shaikh said.
The ACLU and the Council on Islamic American Relations, held a news conference Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles to announce a lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of three plaintiffs. They accuse the FBI and seven employees of infringing on the 1st and 4th amendment rights of hundreds of members of the local Muslim community by using paid informants to infiltrate mosques and record interactions with its members. They claim that the FBI informant, Craig Monteilh, violated members’ civil rights and subjected them to “indiscriminate surveillance” because of their religion.
For over 14 months between 2006 and 2007, FBI agents planted an informant (Mr Monteilh) in Orange County mosques who posed as a convert to Islam and through whom the FBI collected names, telephone numbers, e-mails, and other information on hundreds of California Muslims. Sheikh Yassir Fazaga, Ali Malik, and Yassir AbdelRahim – plaintiffs in the case-are three of the many individuals who came in contact with the bureau’s informant.
F.B.I. officials said that they could not comment on the lawsuit, but that they based any investigation on allegations of criminal activity. They said that they did not single out specific religious or ethnic groups.
Mr. Monteilh has also sued the F.B.I., saying that it failed to protect him from charges of grand theft that he says were related to his work in a drug-ring operation. The class-action lawsuit seeks a court order for the F.B.I. to destroy or return the information Mr. Monteilh obtained.
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the FBI has used informants successfully as one of many tactics to prevent another strike in the United States. Agency officials say they are careful not to violate civil liberties and do not target Muslims. But the FBI’s approach has come under fire from some Muslims, criticism that surfaced again late last month after agents arrested an Oregon man they said tried to detonate a bomb at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. FBI technicians had supplied the device.
In Irvine, California, a sting backfired when the infiltrated FBI informant, Craig Monteilh, himself was turned in by the mosque leaders as a possible jihadist. Muslims were so alarmed by his talk of violent jihad that they obtained a restraining order against him. He had helped build a terrorism-related case against a mosque member, but that also collapsed.
Compounding the damage, Monteilh has gone public, revealing secret FBI methods and charging that his “handlers” trained him to entrap Muslims as he infiltrated their mosques, homes and businesses. He is now suing the FBI.
Some Muslims in Southern California and nationally say the cascading revelations have seriously damaged their relationship with the FBI, a partnership that both sides agree is critical to preventing attacks and homegrown terrorism.
“The FBI wants to treat the Muslim community as a partner while investigating us behind our backs,” said Kurdi, the Loyola student. “They can’t have it both ways.”
Federal officials acknowledged Saturday that David Coleman Headley, the U.S. businessman who confessed to being a terrorist scout in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was working as a Drug Enforcement Administration informant while training with terrorists in Pakistan.
Headley is the son of a Pakistani father and an American mother. He became an informant for the DEA in the late 1990s, after he was arrested on heroin charges. His U.S. wife told investigators that he told her he started training with Lashkar in early 2002 as part of a secret mission for the U.S. government.
The revelations came after a report Friday by ProPublica and The Washington Post that the FBI had been warned about Headley’s terrorist ties three years before the Mumbai attacks. Headley was arrested 11 months after those attacks.
On Saturday, the New York Times reported that another of Headley’s wives – he apparently was married to three women at the same time – also had warned U.S. officials about his terrorism involvement. In December 2007, the Moroccan woman met with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan and told them about Headley’s friendship with Lashkar members, his hatred of India and her trips with him to the Taj Mahal Hotel, a prime target of the Mumbai attacks, the Times reported.