Beliefnet expert Aziz Poonawalla examines the roles that courageous Muslims have played in preventing terror attacks.
BY: Aziz Poonawalla
As Americans, Muslim Americans have the same vested interest in preventing terrorism as any other fellow citizen. In fact, since 9-11 woke all of us (muslim and non-muslim alike) to the reality of terrorism against our homeland, American muslims have arguably borne a greater responsibility in preventing attacks. That is a responsibility that the muslim community has accepted and has faithfully upheld.
Ever since 9-11, accusations against muslim Americans have been made that we do not “condemn” terrorism. In fact, we have been doing better than condemning it – we have been actively preventing it, in cooperation with the FBI and local law enforcement agencies. We are the first line of defense. Here is the proof: a list of domestic terror plots from October 2001 to January 2012 where muslim informants helped prevent the attack and helped prosecute the perpetrators:
October 2001: The conviction of “Portland 7” case was substantially helped after a local police officer encountered the suspects engaged in target practice. The police officer was sent to the area after a local citizen notified police he heard gunfire.
September 2002: Members of the “Lackawanna 6” are arrested. FBI first becomes aware of their activities in June 2001 when a local Muslim community member tips off the FBI.
April 2003: A citizen notifies local police after he mistakenly receives a suspicious package sent by anti-government terrorist William Krar. The tip-off starts a Federal investigation eventually leads to Krar’s arrest and the discovery of small arms and chemical weaponry.
June 2003: FBI receives two tips from community members notifying them “military-style training” being conducted suspect by Ali Al-Tamimi. The tips start an investigation leading to the arrest of the “Paintball 11” in Northern Virginia.
August 2004: James Elshafay and Shahwar Matin Siraj are arrested largely based on the controversial use of an informant in the investigation. However NYPD were first notified of Siraj after a Muslim community member anonymously notifies New York police about consistently troubling rhetoric coming from the suspect.
February 2006: Muslim community members in Ohio provide information help into arrest and eventually convict 3 suspects planning attacks in Iraq.
August 2006: British authorities arrest a group of British Muslim violent extremists suspected of plotting to blow up several airplanes over the Atlantic. Authorities first become aware of the plot based on a tip from a Muslim community member.
November 2006: Neo-Nazi terrorist Demetrius “Van” Crocker is arrested after an investigation is set in motion by a tip-off from a concerned citizen.
November 2006: Adnan Babar Mirza, a Pakistani national studying in Houston, TX and is arrested for illegal firearms training and possession. Adnan come to the attention of the FBI when local Houston community members tip them off about Adnan’s activities and alleged intentions.
October 2008: Neo-Nazis Daniel Cowart and Paul Schesselman are arrested by local police, who received a tip from a concerned friend of the two suspects, before seeking to go on a shooting spree against African-Americans.
July 2009: Mosque leaders in Raleigh, North Carolina contact law enforcement to notify them of “violent, threatening action… considered to be dangerous” leading to the arrest of Daniel Boyd and 6 other individuals.
September 2009: Queens Imam Ahmad Afazali, a community liaison to the NYPD, helps local police and the FBI in the investigation and arrest of suspect Najibullah Zazi. Though Zazi is initially accused of tipping off Zazi to police surveillance, information in the court complaint and corroborating reporting from mainstream media sources found this notion to be false. (Afzali was, however, deported on charges of lying to FBI agents, but subsequent media reporting also strengthens Afzali’s claims that he was scapegoat for getting caught up in a turf battle between NYPD and FBI officials.)
November 2009: Five Virginia Muslim youth are arrested in Pakistan, allegedly seeking to join a terrorist group, after family members told American federal authorities they went missing.March 2010: Michigan Militia member and Muslim convert Matt Savino refuses aid to a fugitive member of the Hutaree Militia and instead helps law enforcement authorities track him down.April 2010: Senegalese Muslim Alioune Niass first spots the suspicious vehicle used as a bomb to attack Times Square in New York City. Clues from the vehicle and defused explosive immediately led to the suspect, Faisal Shahzad’s, arrest.
June 2010: Suspects Mohammed Mahmoud Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte are arrested, after the FBI first receives an anonymous report in 2006 from one of the suspects’ family members. News reports indicate one of Alessa’s family members provided the tip.
October 2010: Former Hawaii resident Abdel Hamid Shehadeh is arrested for attempting to join the Taliban. Local media noted that the Muslim Association of Hawaii “assisted law enforcement agencies in the case” and that it has “in the past reported suspicious activities.”
October 2010: Farooque Ahmed is arrested on charges of allegedly attempting to bomb the Washington, DC metro railway system. The FBI first learns of Ahmed’s intentions from a community tip-off.
October 2010: An attempt by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to bomb Western targets using air cargo transportation is prevented by US and European authorities. Intelligence that prevented the plot came from ex-militant Jabr al-Faifi, who voluntarily handed himself into Saudi authorities.November 2010: Mohamed Osman Mohamud is arrested for attempting to bomb a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. The New York Times notes, “In the Oregon [Mohamud] case, the FBI received a tip from a Portland Muslim.”
December 2010: Antonio Martinez is arrested for attempting to bomb a military recruiting center in Maryland. Statements from Justice Department officials indicate a Muslim community member reported Martinez to the FBI during its ongoing investigation.
June 2011: Two Al-Qaeda inspired violent criminals planning to attack a military installation in Seattle are arrested by law enforcement. FBI officials first become aware of the planned attack after a fellow Muslim who was trying to be recruited into the conspiracy went to Seattle Police and informed them of the plot.
January 2012: Violent Al-Qaeda sympathizer Sami Osmakac is arrested for planning to attack several sites in Tampa, Florida using guns and explosives. The U.S. Attorney for Central Florida noted, “This investigation was also predicated, in part, by assistance from the Muslim community.”
This data was compiled by MPAC in a detailed and exhaustive report – in the executive summary, they note:
Muslim communities helped U.S. security officials to prevent nearly 2 out of every 5 Al-Qaeda plots threatening the United States since 9/11. Muslim communities helped law enforcement prevent 1 out of every 2 of all Al-Qaeda related plots threatening the U.S. since the December 2009 “underwear bomber” plot. This is an important parallel trend to the recent spike of arrests. It also highlights the importance of partnering with society through good relations and community oriented policing.
Unfortunately, muslims remain under suspicion as a threat rather than an asset in the fight against terrorism. The NYPD screened the vile propaganda film The Third Jihad for thousands of police officers on continuous loop, not-so-subtly indoctrinating them with the message that Islam and the Qur’an encourages violence as a basic teaching. Republican congressman Peter King held slanderous hearings about the “extremism” of the muslim community, explicitly claiming that “no (American) Muslims cooperate in the war on terror” and that “80-85 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists”. Internal documents from the NYPD revealed a widescale plan to engage in undercover domestic spying against Shi’a mosques in the Northeast. On the national level, the FBI engaged in similar (and equally illegal) surveillance under the guise of its mosque outreach program (which my own mosque proudly participates in). And with the exception of the unelectable Ron Paul, all of the credible Republican candidates for President pander to the Islamophobic right: Santorum, Gingrich and Romney.
The result of this sustained assault on muslims and Islam is to create a divide between the muslim community and the rest of America, a false divide which certain people actively cultivate for profit. American Islamophobia is also exploited by Al Qaeda itself – the radical imam Anwar al Awlaki in Yemen actually invoked persecution of muslims in America in his sermons, and helped him inspire the Fort Hood shootings and the Times Square plot.
The Islamophobia industry is the driving force keeping suspicion of muslims alive in the minds of politicians like Rep. King and law enforcement agencies like the NYPD – and their efforts not only make it more difficult for muslim communities to cooperate in foiling terror plots, but also create the conditions of mistrust and estrangement that gives aid and comfort to our enemies.
But the record is clear: Muslim Americans are preventing terror. And will continue to do so, despite these obstacles, with informal methods like tips or more formal partnerships like the FBI’s CREST seminar and outreach program.
There is simply too much at stake for us to do any less.