FBI agents are devils lurking online to entrap young Muslims in bogus terrorist plots, a leading Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) official told a group of Michigan youngsters earlier this week.
Dawud Walid, director of CAIR's Michigan chapter, lectured area youth on Monday about his belief that FBI agents are waiting to set them up through informants. He wants the message to reach a broader audience, posting the audio online and promoting it on his Twitter feed.
Noting the 48th anniversary of Malcolm X's assassination this week, Walid told the youth audience that history is riddled with spies who betray their own, from Malcolm X to the Islamic prophet Mohammed's companions, to Judas among Jesus' apostles.
Today, "you have agent provocateurs and people who are acting as informants that are trying to further their careers, to get out of trouble, to get arrests, try to set people up," Walid said. "And guess the No. 1 group of people who are targeted by these FBI agent provocateurs? Does anyone have a guess? Muslims."
That may be true specifically in terms of counter-terrorism cases. But a quick search of news stories from the past week shows informants and undercover agents are used in sting operations almost daily in cases involving drugs, prostitution, online child sex predators and more.
But Walid's talk, at just less than 15 minutes, had no room for context. He also devoted no time to warning the youngsters that they need to be wary of actual extremists and their message. He described hearing from a woman who said the FBI offered to help her with an immigration problem if she created a Facebook page supporting the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab.
"What are you waiting for O' youth?" an official says in one online recruiting video. "If you do not fight Jihad today then when will you? O Muslim youth, free your brothers from the darkness of oppression and the brutality of the enemy blows. Search for death and you will attain life. Come to jihad, you will gain honor in this life and the next."
More than 20 young Somalis reportedly left the Minneapolis area to join the group, with several dying. One, Shirwa Ahmed, became the first known American suicide bomber. It also is suspected of killing some of those Americans after they tried to leave the group.
Walid mentioned none of this to his youth audience. Rather, he cast doubt on Shabaab's terrorist designation.
"Have you all heard of al-Shabaab?" he asked. "Shabaab literally means 'youth' in Arabic, as-Shabaab al-Muslimeen is a group in Somalia that's been involved in a lot of fighting and our government calls them a terrorist organization."
Walid offered no warning about online content glorifying violent jihad, be it from al-Shabaab or in videos from American-born al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Though he was killed in a 2011 drone strike, Awlaki's online sermons continue to influence would-be terrorists. Walid's speech made no attempt to tell the youngsters why such a message was wrong and should be shunned.
The only threat he described is from law enforcement. Informants play to young Muslims' emotions, Walid said, lamenting the deaths of Muslims in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere. For example, "'look at what's going on in France, and America's helping the French government in Mali, and look what's going on with the Muslims in Mali.' Trying to get people, primarily youth, excited," Walid said.
"And then once one of the youth gets excited and says something back over the Internet and then goes to meet someone to have a conversation to do something, then guess what happens? The FBI comes and says 'Gotcha!' Now I'm serious. This has happened. Many times. So my advice to you is that [if] anyone strange comes into the masjid, or on your Facebook page or Twitter, and tries to get you excited about wanting to do something against the United States government or something overseas, you should be very careful. You should tell your parents the situation immediately and they should contact me at CAIR. Because nine times out of 10 the person who is trying to influence you over Twitter or over Facebook is not even a real extremist. It's someone who's with the government that's trying to set you up."
In addition to indicating that contact from "a real extremist" would be unremarkable, Walid grossly mischaracterizes law enforcement counter-terrorism stings.
It is language he has used before.
"The FBI, by using informants acting as agent provocateurs, has recruited more so-called extremist Muslims than al-Qaida themselves," he said in December 2010. In a separate speech to CAIR-Connecticut's annual banquet that same month, he described FBI "agent provocateurs" taking advantage of "emotional people," "getting them excited," "giving them plots" and then "after they push the people," saying "gotcha!"
With this, Walid continues his long history of blatantly mischaracterizing law enforcement actions. He spent more than a year arguing that agents murdered a peaceful Detroit imam as they tried to arrest him for weapons violations and conspiring to sell stolen goods. The imam refused repeated orders to lie down and surrender peacefully, and video shows that hid behind a corner clutching a handgun as agents approached. He fired his gun first, killing an FBI canine. Walid refused to accept the facts even after two investigations cleared the agents.
The terrorism Walid criticizes start with people who voluntarily offer their support for jihad and express interest in meeting people who can help make that happen. Earlier this month, a federal jury in Portland convicted Somali immigrant Mohamed Mohamud after he tried to detonate what he thought was a car bomb outside a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony in 2010. The bomb was rendered inert by FBI agents investigating Mohamud.
Evidence showed Mohamud wrote four articles for Jihad Recollections, an online magazine, and posted on other jihadi web sites before the FBI stepped in. He chose the target, bypassing suggestions he serve the cause through non-violent means.
Similarly, a Virginia man thought he was going to detonate a suicide bomb inside the U.S. Capitol a year ago, only to be arrested by FBI agents as he walked alone toward the building with what he thought was a live bomb-vest. Amine El-Khalifi felt a religious duty to act because of his belief the United States was waging a war on Muslims. His "motivation was simply to do what he thought God called him to do," his public defender said at El-Khalifi's sentencing.
While Walid and his colleagues at CAIR decry such law enforcement intervention, a former FBI agent who is Muslim sees them as vital in protecting innocent lives.
"As you can't prosecute someone just for professing a desire to kill Americans, and you can't read minds to determine if they really intend to carry out their threats, either you wait to see if the real al Qaeda gets in contact—and hope you can track them—or you intercede," former agent Ali Soufan wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal book review. "Most Americans would no doubt prefer the latter option to taking a serious gamble with civilian lives."
Count Walid among the minority. He sees Soufan, who participated in undercover terrorism stings, as a devil to young Muslims.
"This is in Islam. Shayatin – devils – they're not just in spirit they're also in men. But guess what? Shayatin can be as white as a piece of paper but shayatin can also be as black as coal. There are shayatin in many colors. Some of them are Chinese, some of them are Arab. Some of them are black. Some of them are Bengali. All types of shayatin. So we have to be on guard and ask Allah (SWT) to protect us from the shayatin amongst the jinn (spirits) and the men."