Privacy SOS

The new witch trials? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

It's finally happened. After scores of FBI entrapment cases in which the organization set up young Muslim men to do illegal things and then slammed them with long prison terms when they complied, it has finally happened: someone said 'no.'

A young Muslim man told FBI provocateurs 'no way' when they tried to get him to buy a gun and travel to Pakistan for "jiahdi" training. And guess what happened next?

The FBI arrested him anyway.

The story of the FBI and Khalifah al-Akili is really something. As far as the Guardian tells it, it goes like this:

al-Akili gets approached by a couple of guys who ask him to buy a gun and say they can help him get to Pakistan to train for jihad. al-Akili says no thanks, but he gets one of the guys' phone numbers.

He goes home and searches Google for any reference to the phone number. Bam! He gets a hit — a worrying hit. 

The search returned a reference to the case of the Newburgh Four, where an FBI confidential informant called Shahed Hussain helped secure the convictions of four men for attempting to blow up Jewish targets in the Bronx.

The Guardian's initial description of the Newburgh Four case makes it sound pretty dangerous and scary. But the families of the men involved — four African American converts to Islam — tell a very different story, one that makes it sound like an FBI informant took advantage of their poverty and essentially bribed the men into engaging in the attempted bombing. (Oh, and the FBI also provided the bomb, as has become routine in these cases.) More on the Newburgh informant from the Guardian:

Hussain's actions became notorious among civil rights groups due to the incentives he deployed on his targets, who were local black Muslims in the impoverished town of Newburgh. They included offering one suspect $250,000, a car and a free holiday. Al-Akili said he also found a picture of Shahed Hussain on the internet and realised it was the same man as [the person who had asked him to travel to Pakistan.]

So al-Akili became concerned that the men who had approached him and asked him to do illegal things were working for the FBI. Justifiably. Intelligently. Reasonably.

What did he do next? Hint: it wasn't terrorism.

No, instead of committing terrorist atrocities against the United States, he emailed civil rights organizations, friends and journalists, including the Guardian, telling them the above information, letting them know that he thought he was being targeted by the FBI. According to the Guardian, he closed the email by writing:

"I would like to pursue a legal action against the FBI due to their continuous harassment and attempts to set me up." 

(Bad move, al-Akili. The FBI was probably reading your email.)

The Guardian followed up with him, and they made a plan on March 14 to talk further about what al-Akili said was an FBI setup. But that never happened because the very next morning FBI agents raided his house and arrested him.

The FBI is now holding al-Akili incommunicado, saying that he is a threat to the public and therefore cannot speak to the press. 

Does anyone believe that? 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.