Homegrown terror or manufactured crimes?
On May 20, 2009, four African-American Muslims were arrested, paraded in front of New York news cameras and presented by the FBI as the faces of homegrown terrorism.
“Four individuals sought to bomb Jewish facilities here in the Bronx and also take down a military aircraft in Newburgh,” said FBI official Joseph Demarest.
It was a terrifying plot the FBI claimed to have thwarted. The suspects were quickly dubbed the “Newburgh Four” by US mainstream media. The suspects were described as poor, illiterate ex-convicts with neither passports nor licenses.
“There was no direction by a foreign entity or terrorist group,” said Demarest.
According to court testimony, the suspects were directed by Shahid Hussain, a Pakistani immigrant on the FBI payroll. Hussain was reportedly paid $100,000 for his services, which included providing fake C4 and showing the “Newburgh Four” a fake Stinger missile.
It was fake weapons and a manufactured terror plot. According to court testimony, Hussain recruited the economically strapped defendants by offering cars and cash to carry out the orchestrated operation. Then the agent provocateur testified in court as the government's key witness.
In post-9/11 America, the FBI has upped its ante against terrorism, allegedly foiling plots around the country. The question is, would there be plots to foil without government informants in place to create them? Although surprisingly little criticism has come from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, others have expressed alarm at what they term entrapment, a practice considered unacceptable in most of Europe and beyond.
One of the “Newburgh Four” defendants is 29-year-old David Williams. His aunt, Alicia McWilliams-McCollum, says her nephew is languishing behind bars for a fake terror attack grown in the home of the US government.
"They are creating scenarios, they are manufacturing crimes,” McWilliams-McCollum. “That would not have occurred if you had not planted an unconstructive seed into a community.”
James Wedick, a 35-year veteran of the FBI, says the agency is making grave mistakes by turning untrained civilians into informants.
"Bin Laden is still out there,” Wedick said. “There are real terrorist out there we should be concerned about. And they should use those resources to find those individuals and not sit back and rely on informants to make up crimes."
Attorney Steve Downs, who tracks cases like the “Newburgh Four,” has accused the US government of systematically employing preemptive prosecution – targeting those whom officials deem predisposed to committing crimes before an actual crime is committed.
"They’re taking some down-and-out vulnerable individuals and not only planting the ideology of jihad in them, they’re giving them all the things they need: setting up the plan, giving them all the research and material, and then grabbing them and claiming these were homegrown terrorists,” Downs said. “It’s just a fiction."
The “Newburgh Four” defendants were convicted on seven different charges including attempting to use weapons of mass destruction. Sentencing is scheduled for March 2011. All four Muslim men face life in prison.
"I left that courtroom cursing America and cursing Obama,” said McWilliams-McCollum. “I don’t have slave owners. I got government owners. Government that will sell a family off for political gain. This is a goddamn shame. I’m sad to be a goddamn American today."