Ten days after a white supremacist murdered 10 unsuspecting Black shoppers in a racist premeditated attack that the FBI may have known about in advance, the FBI issued a self-congratulatory press release for “foiling” a separate plot that they themselves invented. Predictably, within hours of the agency issuing the press release, major media outlets parroted the FBI’s talking points without a scintilla of skepticism.
On closer examination, this “plot” appears to be yet another nauseating rendition of the FBI’s “How to Make a Terrorist” manual. In its press release, the FBI states that Indianapolis, Indiana, resident Shihab Ahmed Shihab Shihab “exchanged money with others in an attempt to illegally bring foreign nationals to the United States.” Notably absent from the statement is that these “others” are two confidential sources, (referred to as “CS1” and “CS2” throughout the criminal complaint) both of whom have been paid by the FBI for their role in this investigation and at least one of whom is also receiving immigration benefits.
Shihab’s case has eerie similarities to the many documented cases in which the FBI’s army of 15,000 informants played the seminal role in the creation of a supposed “terrorist plot.” The FBI often utilizes confidential informants, snaking them into Muslim places of worship where they target the most intellectually, emotionally and financially vulnerable in these marginalized communities.
The vast majority of these informants are forced to exchange their cooperation for some tangible benefit, including clemency, immigration status, remuneration or some combination of the same. In most of these cases, the targets of these stings have no independent ability (and in some cases no motive) to engage in any act of political violence. Rather, it is the FBI’s own informants who goad them along, providing them with the plan, the method and the means.
In the alleged scheme to illegally smuggle foreign nationals into the borders of the U.S., Shihab acted as a middleman, facilitating a transaction between the two informants. Put differently, the government is on both sides of the transaction, with one informant providing the smuggling service and the other informant seeking that same service. Shihab’s crime is merely to connect the two in exchange for a hefty $27,000 commission.
According to the government’s complaint, throughout this investigation, Shihab was employed at a halal market in Indianapolis. It is reasonable to assume that he was making at or near the minimum wage — in which case $27,000 would be a windfall, a life-changing amount of cash for Shihab, who’d immigrated to the U.S. from Iraq less than two years ago.
The government also states in the press release that Shihab allegedly traveled to Dallas, Texas, in February “to conduct surveillance of locations associated with [former President George W. Bush].” Again, notably absent from this statement is that it was the government that purchased Shihab’s ticket and paid for his hotel in Dallas, and that CS1 was the person driving the vehicle that was conducting this “surveillance.” At best, the government’s allegations are a series of half-truths cobbled together to present a fiction that obscures the roles of the informants in orchestrating this façade.
Fifteen years ago, two paid FBI informants entrapped five young men in New Jersey using similar tactics in a 16-month sting which earned the men the moniker “Fort Dix Five.” The government paid the key informant, Mahmoud Omar, nearly a quarter of a million dollars, granted him clemency for bank fraud and promised to grant him immigration benefits.
Besnik Bakalli, the government’s other informant, absconded from Albania after an attempted murder and entered the U.S. without documentation. He was in immigration detention awaiting deportation — and likely a death sentence under Kanun, a common alternative to the traditional legal system, in his native country — when he agreed to cooperate in exchange for legal status. These benefits came with concrete expectations and both informants understood that they were expected to deliver.
Omar’s primary target was Mohamed Shnewer, a young Palestinian nearly half Omar’s age who lived with his parents and worked at their family halal grocery store. Omar frequented the store, striking up conversations with Shnewer about politics and their shared disenchantment with U.S. imperialism abroad. Over the course of several months, Omar shifted gears from discussing politics to badgering Shnewer to do something.
After months of pressure, Shenwer finally relented, making an off-hand remark about potential places to target in order to satiate Omar, after which Omar began pestering Shnewer about who to include in this fictitious plan. Shnewer, again, at Omar’s request, rattled off names of people he knew — several of whom were his relatives. A cursory review of Shnewer’s statements are so plagued with internal contradictions and inconsistencies that relying upon them as evidence of criminal intent is laughable at best.
Similarly, the allegations in the 13-month Shihab sting are so outlandish — that he was targeting former President Bush in an assassination attempt — that one would have to suspend all reason and logic to believe this to be a veritable threat rather than the ruminations of a person who has been groomed specifically to make such statements.
Far more likely, a paid government informant targeted Shihab, an immigrant who had left his family in Iraq less than two years earlier, worked in a grocery store, and likely had no deep community ties, friends or family locally. Over time, the informant used these vulnerabilities to gain his trust and confidence, exploiting the U.S. role in the destruction of Shihab’s native country to compel him to participate in the plan that the FBI had already contrived.
These fictitious plots further cement an environment of fear and xenophobia which continue to fuel the endless profit-driven “war on terror.” In a tragic irony, this very imperialism is directly responsible for both displacing many Muslim immigrants, like Shihab, from their country of origin, and simultaneously banning them from seeking refuge in the U.S. through discriminatory immigration policies like the Muslim ban. Domestically, these concocted plots further the perception that a veritable threat exists and surveillance of Muslims and encroachment on constitutionally protected civil liberties is uniquely justified.
Although studies show that white supremacy is and continues to be the greatest domestic threat, a disproportionate amount of resources continues to be poured into creating and “foiling” nonsensical fantasy plots. The violence of white supremacy, of a lone shooter writing a manifesto and murdering Black people, is obvious. The FBI concocting a dangerous bogeyman to target a deeply marginalized and disenfranchised community of color is cut from the same white supremacist cloth.
The stakes have never been higher (and our need for your support has never been greater).
For over two decades, Truthout’s journalists have worked tirelessly to give our readers the news they need to understand and take action in an increasingly complex world. At a time when we should be reaching even more people, big tech has suppressed independent news in their algorithms and drastically reduced our traffic. Less traffic this year has meant a sharp decline in donations.
The fact that you’re reading this message gives us hope for Truthout’s future and the future of democracy. As we cover the news of today and look to the near and distant future we need your help to keep our journalists writing.
Please do what you can today to help us keep working for the coming months and beyond.