When American terror suspect Mufid Elfgeeh, a 30-year-old store owner from Rochester, New York, was first arrested back in June, the FBI of course issued a press release trumpeting their coup. The text briefly mentioned Elfgeeh had expressed support via Twitter for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups across the Middle East, but focused primarily on his attempt to buy a silencer, ammunition and a 9mm handgun from two FBI informants, and a plot to shoot US military personnel based in the United States. It made no mention of two-way communication with any of the foreign groups he had alluded to on Twitter.
In September, when Elfgeeh was actually charged, the FBI press release looked a little different: Instead of leading with the details of his plot, which fit the bill for a self-initiated “lone wolf” attack, it emphasized strongly that Elfgeeh had been charged with providing support, in the forms of personnel, to ISIL.
Even more curiously, Elfgeeh’s case comes with two published affidavits.
In the first affidavit, the FBI focused on his attempt to buy a silencer, ammunition and a weapon from two FBI informants who appear to have been paid to “sting” him. This was then used to secure his arrest.
But in the second affidavit, written up by the same special agent, the very same two informants who had initially provided evidence were now contributing something new – information about a more sophisticated plot to provide personnel to ISIL in Syria.
What had changed in that time? The United States had begun a controversial bombing campaign against targets in Syria. An incentive certainly existed to tie Elfgeeh’s arrest more explicitly to ISIL, rather than one of the myriad groups Elfgeeh had expressed support for.
In Australia, newsrooms then spun themselves into an indignant fury when a sword belonging to a recently arrested terror suspect was photographed in a transparent evidence bag, clutched by an investigator. The photograph was taken after Australia’s largest ever terror raids were ordered, involving more than 800 officers.
In fact, it was a “Zulfiqar,” a traditional symbol of Shiite Islam, commonly available in religious shops and which many Shiite households keep.
To suggest that the owner of the sword, and those arrested alongside him, was in any way affiliated with the Sunni Islamic State, which is dedicated to genocidal acts against Shiite Muslims, was absurd.
The owner was later released without charge – but not before the Australian government had passed draconian “anti-terror” laws which threaten journalists covering national security measures with 10-year sentences and had deployed fighter jets and special forces to Iraq.
Another family is now suing the Australian government after they say they were unfairly targeted in the raids, although they have declined to be identified.
The one charge that resulted from the raids currently stands againstOmarjan Azar, buthas no evidence attached to it, yet, other than the continuing tabloid speculation that an ISIL-style execution was to take place in Martin Place, in central Sydney.
A further claim was then made by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a staunch supporter of intervention in Iraq, in which he suggested that a phone call exists linking the young Australian Muslim directly to ISIL. He did not make this claim under affidavit, and the trial is not likely to take place for some months.
If the group had supposedly been under surveillance since May, which counter-terrorism authorities later admitted, why then the sudden commando raids, why the invitation to the nation’s TV crews, why did the counter-terrorism police release such dramatic stills of the raid to the waiting press, and why would you ever carry evidence from the scene out in a transparent bag? All strange behavior, except when you consider the Australian government has been keen to put the country on a war footing.
The United Kingdom, also, has question marks surrounding its terror arrests, all of which have taken place, similarly, just as Prime Minister David Cameron has taken the country back into Iraq.
Anjem Choudary, an extremist activist in London, has been picked up by security forces. He holds some extremely distasteful views, and there’s a damning photo of him standing alongside one of Drummer Lee Rigby’s despicable executioners. However, he has never been conclusively linked to any terror plots. Choudary is an easy bogeyman to track down at short notice; he openly operates out of a sweet shop in East London and is never far from the newspapers. He was also arrested one day before the British Parliament voted to redeploy military forces into Iraq.
Doubts have also been cast over the arrest of the British Muslim Tarik Hassane, 21, who was arrested with four others on October 9by British police. His friend, Wilson Weaver, who describes himself as a practicing Christian, told The Guardian he had known Hassane since the age of 11, and his friend had never said anything suggesting he supported violence.”Ever since I’ve known him he’s been a Muslim and devout. I am prepared to go out on a limb, in the face of the newspapers’ lies and misrepresentations: There is nothing in him for me to believe he is a terrorist.” Weaver’s statement was backed up by other non-Muslim friends. A tweet from Hassane was also splashed across the tabloids, “Oi lads . . . prepare for war,” but was later found to refer only to a brewing argument between two female friends. And despite authorities claiming Hassane spent time fighting in Syria earlier this year, Hassane’s own university in Sudan later issued a detailed report claiming this was impossible. According to administrators, his passport was in their custody for the duration of his course and was only released to him on September 30.
The security forces of the United States have been shown to fabricate terror plots on a number of occasions. Human Rights Watch issued a 214-page investigation in June entitled “US: Terrorism Prosecutions Often An Illusion.”
“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,”Andrea Prasow,one of the authors of the report, told the press. “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”
Almost 30 percent were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot. In the case of the “Newburgh Four,” for example, who were accused of planning to blow up synagogues and attack a US military base, a judgesaidthe government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,” and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”
When it comes to the case of Elfgeeh, who had no prior criminal record, and appears to have had no prior contact with terror-linked groups until the two FBI informants came along, the case may fit the bill of a deliberate sting.
In July, I met with a Bangladeshi former prisoner in London who claimed to have spent time while inside a maximum security British prison with a number of men convicted for their role in a high-profile British terror plot some years ago. He said intelligence services had later tried to recruit him as an informant as he awaited deportation linked to his own conviction for petty crime. He told me he refused and claimed he had not been radicalized.
He told me that those convicted insisted that British security services had set them up and encouraged them to engage in terrorist activity. Such stories are extremely commonplace in the British Muslim community, particularly among political Islamists. At the time, I wrote it off as a conspiracy theory.
The domestic terror threat drives much of the justification for our proactive involvement in stemming ISIL’s expansion into northern Iraq and Syria.
If this threat has been fabricated or exaggerated, it serves a useful purpose: justifying significant Western intervention, as opposed to letting regional allies lead the way in preventing the group from spreading further.
After what Tony Blair and George W. Bush pulled off last time with WMDs, I remain skeptical, as does Sir Richard Dearlove, who served as head ofMI6 from 1999 to 2004.
Last year he threatened to release a book detailing events running up to the invasion of Iraq, and in July blamed ministers for “warning us again and again about the seriousness of the terrorist problems that we face.”
He concluded, “This new conflict is essentially Muslim on Muslim. We must continue to cover the Middle East as a political requirement but without putting the incipient terrorist threat to ourselves at the center of the picture and, in particular, without demonizing our own Muslim community.”