Three men convicted of trying to blow up synagogues in New York have each been sentenced to 25 years in prison. But the case has raised allegations of entrapment, after they were actually incited by the FBI, and handed fake bombs.
Critics claim it was a set-up, but the judge said her hands were tied.
For nearly a decade, the US has waged a widespread global war on terror. It has required a multi-tasking military effort overseas.
On the domestic front, US officials have decided to redouble their efforts, recently announcing counter-terrorism plans that refocus resources on combating home-grown plots.
“This is the first counter-terrorism strategy that focuses on the ability of Al-Qaeda and its network to inspire people in the United States to attack us from within, ” John Brennan, U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor declared recently.
Yet in countless so-called FBI sting operations, media reports suggest the FBI operative provided the fake C4, and actually showed them the fake stinger missile.
The inspiration to attack America has sometimes come from a government-paid informant working to orchestrate the plot.
Critics of this tactic say it was exercised in a New York case dubbed the “Newburgh Four”.
The suspects – poor, illiterate, African-American Muslims – were presented as the faces of homegrown terrorism, and subsequently found guilty of conspiring and attempting US terrorist attacks.
“There was no direction by a foreign entity or terrorist group,” said Joseph Demarest, the head of the FBI’s New York office in May 2009.
Instead direction came from Shahid Hussain. a Pakistani immigrant on the FBI payroll. He was reportedly paid $100,000 for his services.
According to court testimony, Hussain recruited the cash-strapped former convicts by offering cars and cash to carry out the operation he reportedly orchestrated.
“Four individuals sought to bomb Jewish facilities here in the Bronx and also take down a military aircraft in Newburgh,” Demarest subsequently acknowledged.
None of the defendants had passports or licenses. What the government had was an agent provocateur who testified in court as a key witness.
The same day, a new counter-terrorism strategy was touted, the Newburgh Four were sentenced to 25 years in prison each.
A tearful and angered crowd of supporters gathered outside Manhattan’s federal courthouse.
“Who holds the government accountable? Turning on your own American citizens. People that’s [sic] born right here on American soil. This is a damn shame. Miscarriage of justice and we will keep fighting back,” says Alicia McWilliams McCollum, an aunt of David Williams, a Newburgh Four defendant.
“The government should not be allowed to entrap folks, make plans, and set the whole course of a complete plan, and then take the victims and sentence them to 25 years in prison,” says David Williams Sr., Williams’ father.
FBI-informants have reportedly been used in dozens of so called foiled plots since 9/11.
Critics say hundreds of Americans are languishing behind bars for fake terror attacks planted and grown by the US government.
“Our tax dollars are being used to incentivize criminals to manufacture terror plots that they catch other people up in? I can't see how that in any way benefits the country,” says New Yorker Joseph Jordan.
“That means they can pick anybody out from New York City, or of course the United States, and make a plot,” suggests New Yorker L Amir. Amma.
“You have to be very careful, very aware, of who you speak to, who you are around, because you have many FBI agents, many informants that are out there that they are using,” warns Marlene Jenkins, whose son has been arrested and imprisoned through an FBI-orchestrated sting.
The US federal judge said outrageous government behavior was exercised in the case of the Newburgh Four, expressing doubt the convicts could have or would have planned an attack without the FBI informant. However, the specific charges against the men required a mandatory minimum 25-year prison sentence. US prosecutors say the manufactured plot would have been a colossal attack if carried out and “the fact that it was fake does not matter.”