The Wall Street Journal has published the story of an unsung hero in the fight against terrorism: an undercover New York Police Department (NYPD) officer who infiltrated local terrorist cells.
The officer, who went by the alias Kamil Pasha, grew up in Brooklyn and Queens and began working undercover with a group of Brooklyn radicals several months after the 9/11 attacks. One day in 2004, he was among a group of a dozen men in an Islamic bookstore in Brooklyn. They were watching videos of the "top ten" killings of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
"That made these guys pumped up and happy," the officer said. "It's like a party at a club. They were hitting the walls with excitement. One guy even broke a chair."
One of those celebrating was Shahawar Matin Siraj. In January 2007, Siraj was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in conspiring to plant explosive devices at the 34th Street subway station in Manhattan, right before the start of the 2004 Republican National Convention.
The undercover spent four years observing the radicalization process take place during small gatherings of men at an Islamic bookstore and various Brooklyn mosques. The men in these groups spoke frequently of jihad and enlisted him to train with them.
By the time the subway bomb plot was underway, the officer had decided to focus on infiltrating another jihadist cell, this one in Borough Park. With that group, he trained for holy war by playing paintball, climbing mountains, and shooting assault rifles. During one of his trips to a firing range, a young man pressed a 9mm handgun to the back of his head.
The officer was able to persuade the man not to shoot him, although he told the Journal that to this day he doesn't know if he was being tested. At police headquarters, his superiors debated withdrawing him from the undercover assignment.
Eventually the officer appeared in court to testify at Siraj's 2006 trial – ending his undercover work.
At the trial, Siraj was heard on recordings talking about his plan to blow up the subway station. Prosecutors played a 45-minute videotape showing Siraj agreeing to take a bomber into the station and instruct him where to plant backpack bombs.
"He loved talking about jihad," the officer said of Siraj, who these days can be found here.
David Cohen, deputy commissioner of intelligence at NYPD, says that such undercover operations have become the city's main defense against terrorism amid the escalation of terrorist plots since 9/11. But despite numerous successes like the Siraj case, the use of informants against Islamist terror cells continues to come under attack from groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations.