NY terror arrests: A more chilling plot?

The stupidest man

“It’s hard to envision a more chilling plot.”

Four men were arrested on May 21 for allegedly plotting to blow up a synagogue and shoot anti-aircraft missiles at military planes. Muslims across the country, including the author, were shocked and dismayed at the news. “I write to you today with shock and dismay over reports that four Muslims planned to bomb synagogues in the New York City area. This criminal attitude is reprehensible and wretched,” wrote Salam Al Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, to Jewish leaders.

NY Rep Peter King, among others, pounced on the news, warning that the plot “demonstrates the real threat from homegrown terrorists.” Still others pointed to this plot as further evidence of an extensive “Islamic terror” network secretly living amongst us waiting to pounce, casting fear, suspicion, and hatred upon the entire American Muslim community.

The facts of the case, however, tell a completely different story. The suspects are petty criminals, some with lengthy criminal records. The Associated Press describes them as “down-and-out ex-convicts living on the margins in a faded industrial city.” One was on medication for schizophrenia and was deemed to be too insane to be deported after a conviction for assault. They apparently converted to Islam in prison, but they were still seen “boozing it up” at barbecues and hung out at a Roman Catholic center. In fact, the imam of Masjid Al Ikhlas, where one of the suspects visited, stated that he had “a fundamental lack of knowledge about Islam.” Wanda Walker, the sister of one of the suspects, called her brother “the stupidest man on the planet… I’m still waiting for the punchline.” Even Mayor Bloomberg called the planners of this plot “amateurs.”

And, of course, this plot would not be complete without the… paid government informant. This time, the informant was Shahid Hussain, 52, the same informant who posed as an arms dealer in 2004. In fact, Muslims who worshipped at the same mosque as the suspects, Masjid Al Ikhlas, all knew to stay away from him and even suspected he was an agent-provocateur. “Everyone knew to stay away from him,” said mosque member Abdul Wali, according to the New York Post. “We even tried to tell James [Cromitie, one of the suspects] to stay away from him, but he didn’t listen.” The imam of the mosque even had suspicions about Mr. Hussain, but he said about this: “How do you go to the government about the government?”

This constitutes a seriously disturbing trend for the Justice Department. Indeed, the FBI has broken up serious plots, ones that led to actual convictions, such as the Fort Dix plot. But, recently, it almost seems that the government is trying to create terror plots out of thin air using government informants, many of whom have had problems with the law themselves. Take Hussain, for example. According to the New York Times, he was charged in 2002 with a scheme involving taking money to illegally help people get driver’s licences. To avoid deportation, he agreed to assist the government. Another famous (or infamous) government informant is Craig Monteilh of southern California, who was also a convicted felon before he worked as an informant for the FBI.

Why is the Justice Department seemingly sending in informants to “hatch” terrorist plots? Is there some sort of agenda to try to frame the American Muslim community? For sure, one of the FBI’s primary objectives is to find and disrupt terrorist plots, and as an American citizen, I am truly grateful for their efforts at keeping me and my family safe. There is a real threat against our country from people who truly want to hurt innocent people in a sick and twisted form of “jihad.”

But, to send a government informant to “infiltrate” a group of “dimwits,” as the Times Online calls them, and “terror dummies,” in the words of the New York Post, seems a bit bizarre to say the least. In fact, security analyst Bruce Schneier said to the Associated Press: “Is the FBI manufacturing terrorists? What would happen if they were left on their own? They fall into the hands of an FBI informant, and then they get helped and egged on.”

With this latest revelation, it is now understandable to me why a coalition of Muslims openly considered cutting off ties to the FBI, even though such a move is unwise. The FBI and the Muslim community are much better served by working together rather than against each other. It just would be a much more productive relationship if the FBI would stop sending informants into mosques talking up jihad. In addition, it is critical to note that in this case, and the case in southern California, the American Muslim community was not, in any way, shape, or form, complicit in these plots.

Having said all of this, and with all the fishy things about this alleged plot, it is still a good thing that it was disrupted. Had such a terrorist attack actually occurred, it would have been utterly devastating. No one deserves to be attacked at their places of worship and community centers. This was a serious threat against the Jewish community, and we must all be vigilant against this or any other attack against any community in the United States. Just as any other loyal, patriotic community, American Muslims care deeply about the safety and well-being of their country. We must all work together to prevent anyone from doing harm to our country, and we must never let the schemes and plots of our enemies divide and turn us against each other.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at godfaithpen.com.


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