I’ve been following the news about the disruption of an alleged terror plot with some interest. Two of the accused — Najibullah Zazi and his father Mohammed Wali Zazi — hail from my native state of Colorado. The news of the plot broke shortly after the eighth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. I had a hunch that there was a religion angle to the story but it was left completely unexplored by many of the reports I was reading.
But when a popular imam from Queens was also arrested, it was hard to avoid at least some coverage of religious angles. Apparently Ahmad Wais Afzali was a trusted informant for law enforcement operatives on the terrorism beat. But the complaint about him now is that he tipped off Zazi — the prime suspect in the alleged plot — and lied about it to investigators.
The New York Times — which had previously reported on Afzali — had a great piece earlier this week on the imam, who also ran a funeral home business:
“He always had fresh, expensive cars,” said Messia Ben Yosef, 23, a pharmacy student who said Mr. Afzali lived on his street for at least 15 years. He said Mr. Afzali drove a white Jaguar XJ8.
Mr. Afzali’s wife said her husband was a Muslim “from the inside out.” Her parents were raised as Muslims after her grandparents, who moved from Puerto Rico, converted to Islam, she said. She married Mr. Afzali three years ago; she said her father introduced them when Mr. Afzali “buried my grandpa.”
Ms. Afzali said her husband’s sermons “usually inspire tears.”
The story answers a lot of the questions about how Afzali came to be arrested but not, exactly, how Zazi and Afzali came to be acquainted. I mean, I’m Lutheran but that doesn’t mean that I have Andy Richter and Steve Zahn on speed dial.
Anyway, there were some other interesting reports. This New York Times piece is about how using Afzali in the terror probe backfired on law enforcement officials but it only discusses that in the context of the imam tipping off Zazi. This Associated Press report from Godbeat veteran Rachel Zoll, headlined Terror probe highlights police-Muslim tensions gets into the religious angles:
The arrest of a Queens imam who investigators had considered a trusted partner was a blow in more ways than one for law enforcement.
No matter the outcome, the case is bound to complicate the already fraught relations between American Muslims and the police who rely on them for information.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, investigators have put an enormous effort into cultivating friendly Muslim sources such as the prayer leader, Ahmad Wais Afzali, who has been accused of tipping off a suspect in an alleged terror plot, then lying about it to investigators.
The piece gets ton of Muslim perspective about law enforcement, including this interesting tidbit about a conspiracy theory:
There is also a persistent belief among some Muslims that no one of their faith could have carried out the Sept. 11 hijackings. Muslims who hold this view believe there is no threat of extremism in their community and therefore no need to work with law enforcement.
Several national Muslim groups have tried to counter this attitude. As just one example, the Muslim Public Affairs Council created a “National Grassroots Campaign to Fight Terrorism,” several years ago aimed largely at mosque leaders. Still, in a 2007 Pew Research Center survey, 60 percent of Muslim Americans said they did not believe that Arabs were behind the attacks.
I wonder why Pew asked if Muslims believed Arabs were behind the attacks. It seems the ethnicity issue would be secondary to the religion one. Either way, Zoll speaks with Muslims who are trying to get their coreligionists to take terror threats seriously. It’s a good piece that takes the religion angle more seriously than anything else I’ve seen out there.