FBI Terror Plot: How the Government Is Destroying the Lives of Innocent People
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For Muslims approached by the FBI to become informants, the consequences of declining such requests can be dire. Ahmadullah Niazi, one of the mosque members who reported the FBI’s own informant, Craig Monteilh, after hearing him talk about planning a terrorist attack, was later contacted by agents and asked to become an informant himself. When he refused, he found himself arrested on charges of lying to immigration officials after he allegedly denied having family ties to a member of Al Qaeda. Prosecutors ultimately withdrew the charges, but Niazi said by the time the case was dismissed, both he and his wife had lost their jobs.
In 2010 Tarek Saleh, a Brooklyn cleric, alleged that the FBI derailed his green card application after he declined its request to travel to Afghanistan and make contact with a relative who was allegedly part of Al Qaeda. “To use me as a bait to trap people, I cannot do this job,” Saleh said.
Tarek Mehanna, a 29-year-old US citizen convicted this year of advocating violent jihad through his writings and translations of various texts, claims that the criminal case against him was initiated after he rebuffed the overtures of FBI agents to become an informant. “They said that I had a choice to make: I could do things the easy way or I could do them the hard way,” Mehanna said at his sentencing. “The ‘easy’ way, as they explained, was that I would become an informant for the government, and if I did so I would never see the inside of a courtroom or a prison cell. As for the hard way, this is it.”
With the FBI’s expanding operations overseas, such cases are not limited to the United States. In one instance in 2010, FBI agents and other American officials contacted Yonas Fikre, a Muslim American from Portland, Oregon, while he was visiting family in Sudan. Fikre declined to be questioned without a lawyer present and rejected a request to become an informant. He subsequently received an e-mail from a State Department address: “Thanks for meeting with us last week in Sudan. While we hope to get your side of the issues we keep hearing about, the choice is yours to make. The time to help yourself is now.” A year later, while traveling in the United Arab Emirates, Fikre was arrested by local security forces, who detained and tortured him for three months, he alleges, asking many of the same questions the FBI had posed to him. One of his interrogators told him he was being held at the behest of the United States.
Attorneys at the CLEAR (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility) project, based out of the City University of New York School of Law, have represented dozens of people since 2009 who have been approached by the FBI for voluntary interviews; they say the threat of retribution for those who refuse to become informants is real. “The FBI approaches the vast majority of our clients as potential informants to partake in mass surveillance of Muslim communities, unconnected to any real criminal investigation,” said Amna Akbar, a supervising attorney at CLEAR. “The bureau is aggressively attempting to cultivate informants in Muslim communities by using coercion, pressure tactics and intimidation.”
As an example, Akbar cites the case of Mohammed Tanvir, a 28-year-old from Pakistan who in October 2010 found himself on the Department of Homeland Security’s “no fly” list following more than a year of fending off requests from FBI agents to become an informant. In 2009, after returning from a visit to his wife in Pakistan, Tanvir says agents appeared at a 99 Cent Store in the Bronx where he worked to question him. “They said they had been following me,” Tanvir recalled. “They had photos of me riding the train to work.” The agents told Tanvir they’d heard from his co-workers at a previous construction job that he had been to Taliban training camps in Afghanistan, a claim Tanvir denies; he says that Indian immigrants at the worksite called him “Taliban” to taunt him about his Pakistani nationality. The agents nevertheless pressed him to become an informant, asking him to focus on the South Asian community in New York City, and offered him money and other enticements, such as bringing his wife to the United States and paying for his parents to make religious pilgrimages from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia. “We need people like you to just watch around your community,” Tanvir says the agents told him. He also says they wanted him to go to Afghanistan to infiltrate militant training camps and “report on what is going on there.” Tanvir, who insists he has no knowledge of the training camps, declined the FBI’s request despite threats that he would be deported back to Pakistan—a prospect that frightened him because his family depended on the money he was sending from the United States.