A New York Imam, Ahmad Wais Afzali, has left the United States and agreed not to return as part of a plea agreement in connection with the attempted bombing of the New York City subway system that was thwarted by federal authorities last year.
Last September, federal authorities uncovered a plot to use at least a dozen small backpack bombs to devastate the subway system in New York—an attack which Attorney General Eric Holder called "one of the most serious terrorist threats to our nation since September 11, 2001." As the case unfolded, new details revealed that while U.S. authorities were investigating the attempted attack, local Imam Afzali inadvertently tipped off the prime suspect.
On September 10, detectives from the New York Police Department met with Afzali, who had served as an informant in the past. During the meeting, detectives showed Afzali photos of Zazi and others. The following day, Afzali contacted Zazi and told him that the police were asking questions about him. According to an affidavit filed in support of an arrest warrant, Afzali said:
"I want to speak with you about something…I want a meeting with you…You probably know why I'm calling you for this meeting…I was exposed to something yesterday from the authorities. And they came to ask me about your characters. They asked me about you guys.
I'm not sure if somebody complained about you. I'm not sure what happened. And I don't want to know…They said, 'please, we need to know who they are…what they're all about.' ... And I told them that they are innocent, law abiding…"
As a result of Afzali's actions, authorities, who had been recording Zazi's conversations, were forced to conduct hurried raids to prevent the fleeing of suspects and the destruction of evidence.
A week later, Afzali was re-interviewed by members of a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in New York. He lied to authorities, saying that while he spoke with Zazi's father he did not tell either Zazi or his father that the authorities had approached him or told him of the investigation. Consequently, Afzali was charged in a four count indictment with lying to federal agents.
In April, Afzali pled guilty to the charged offenses. At sentencing, he reportedly told the judge:
"I take full responsibility for my actions…Honest to God, it was never my intention to help those idiots for what they do in the name of Islam…I'm standing in front of you as a convicted felon, a lying imam, which is a physical, emotional and spiritual burden far greater than any sentence you could impose."
While avoiding a prison sentence of 8 years, he was given 90 days to leave the country or face deportation. Pursuant to that ruling, Afzali and his wife have left the country, traveling to Saudi Arabia en route to another country where they will settle.