The Cleveland bombers and other terrorist plots

One day in April last year, I opened the local newspaper to read a sensational story of the successful thwarting of a plot by five ‘terrorists’, people from the area, to blow up a bridge south of Cleveland. They accepted a plea deal in November that resulted in four of them receiving sentences ranging from 6 to 11 years with the remaining person still awaiting mental competency evaluation. The US attorney’s office had asked for sentences ranging from 19 to 30 years.

Who were these terrorist masterminds in our neck of the woods and why were they interested in blowing up a bridge in a fairly sparsely populated area of the state? Arun Gupta has looked closely into the case and finds that it is a familiar and sordid story that we have heard many times before, of the government using its agents, criminals, and paid informants to lure and encourage drifters and homeless and other people on the margins of society to engage in criminal actions by putting in their minds crazy plots that they would have no chance of implementing successfully if not aided by the government in procuring and using the materials.

The U.S. government described the five as hell-bent on sowing terror to fulfill their “violent anarchist ideology.” In reality, the FBI supplied ten pounds of inert plastic explosives to drifters, suicidal, drug addicts and emotionally troubled. Like hundreds of post-September 11 cases against Muslim-Americans, the FBI conjured up the terrorism it takes credit for pre- venting.

The FBI’s most valuable asset was a paid informant and con artist, Shaquille Azir, who played father figure to the lost men, molding their childish bravado and drunken fantasies into a terrorist plot. Azir drove the five around—who lacked cars and drivers’ licenses according to friends—and provided them with jobs, housing, beer, pot and prescription drugs. Every time the scheme threatened to collapse into gutterpunk chaos, Azir kept it on track.

FBI tapes reveal Azir led the brainstorming of targets, showed them bridges to case out, pushed them to buy C-4 military-grade explosives, provided the contact for weapons, gave them money for the explosives and demanded they develop a plan because “We on the hook” for the weapons. At one point, Azir burst out in frustration at their ineptitude: “Every time we meet, we leave saying, we’re doing some research. And then get back together and go back to square one.”

This case is depressingly similar to those of the past where so-called terrorist plots that were supposedly foiled by the astute work of federal agents turn out under close examination to be those that involved luring people who couldn’t plot their way out of a paper bag into getting involved in some grand scheme.

This article from The Guardian goes through a list of cases in which there would not have been a plot if the FBI had not been pushing the people eventually charged with terrorist acts. It describes one case of David Williams, a youth in New York with a criminal background involving drugs.

His aunt, Alicia McWilliams, was honest about the tough streets her nephew was dealing with. “Newburgh is a hard place,” she said. So it was perhaps no surprise that in May, 2009, David Williams was arrested again and hit with a 25-year jail sentence. But it was not for drugs offences. Or any other common crime. Instead Williams and three other struggling local men beset by drug, criminal and mental health issues were convicted of an Islamic terrorist plot to blow up Jewish synagogues and shoot down military jets with missiles.

Even more shocking was that the organisation, money, weapons and motivation for this plot did not come from real Islamic terrorists. It came from the FBI, and an informant paid to pose as a terrorist mastermind paying big bucks for help in carrying out an attack. For McWilliams, her own government had actually cajoled and paid her beloved nephew into being a terrorist, created a fake plot and then jailed him for it. “I feel like I am in the Twilight Zone,” she told the Guardian.

David Swanson argues that if there is one agency that is behind almost all the terrorist plots in the US, it is the FBI

Between 911 and August, 2011, the U.S. government prosecuted 508 people for terrorism in the United States. 243 had been targeted using an FBI informant. 158 had been caught in an FBI terrorism sting. 49 (that we know of, FBI recording devices have completely unbelievable patterns of “malfunctioning”) had encountered an agent provocateur. Most of the rest charged with “terrorism” had little or nothing to do with terrorism at all, most of them charged with more minor offenses like immigration offenses or making false statements. Three or four people out of the whole list appear to be men whom one would reasonably call terrorists in the commonly accepted sense of the word. They intended to and had something at least approaching the capacity to engage in acts of terrorism.

So next time there is a news conference announcing the foiling of a spectacular plot by terrorists, I would suggest that people look a little skeptically at the evidence. And you can be sure that there will be a next time, and fairly soon, because the government does not want people to think that the terrorist threat has diminished because then we might demand that all the laws that have undermined civil liberties because of the ‘war on terror’ be rescinded.

We are supposed to live in a state of permanent fear.


  1. AsqJames says

    I honestly can’t see the value of such actions if the goal is to counter extremism. All the FBI have done is anger these guys’ family and friends and allowed the extremists to show how unjust the infidel is.

    If the true aim were to reduce the threat from terrorism the use of agent provocateurs would be much different. I can see potential value (as well as huge ethical problems) in a scheme using FBI agents/informers to target groups they suspect are vulnerable to radicalisation, but doing it would need some very important differences before I’d consider it well-intentioned.

    First, anyone who is entrapped by such a scheme (certainly the first time) would never get anywhere near a court room, never mind a prison cell. As soon as your suckers have professed a willingness to engage in acts of terrorism, you sit them down in a room and let them know they’ve been conned. Tell them nothing bad is going to happen to them because this time it was the good guys sounding them out. But next time it might be a real terrorist/recruiter and they won’t be able to spot the difference. So play it safe and report any similar contact to the FBI.

    The Feds should also bring in a moderate Imam or Muslim scholar who can counter the Jihadist propaganda used to push them in the first place and point out how the real bad guys would just be using them too, only with much worse consequences – basically prison or death.

    Second, you publicly acknowledge the program. No one will ever know whether they are really being recruited for Jihad or if they’re being conned by the FBI. Hopefully this reduces the number of people willing to take the chance.

    I can see plenty of practical, as well as ethical, problems with such a scheme. I’m not advocating for anything like it, just that I could follow the logic and accept the motivation – i.e. It’s both a way of identifying those individuals who need to be educated and protected by moderate elements in the Muslim community, and a form of innoculating that community more broadly.

  2. Didaktylos says

    Maybe, just maybe, this is all being done to create back stories for future infiltrators into terrorist groups …

  3. kevinalexander says

    Where I worked the engineering department had a budget surplus at the end of the year. Rather than have the next years budget cut they found a way to spend the money by designing and building a completely useless machine.
    If Congress appropriates a gazillion dollars to get terrorists then terrorists must be produced.

  4. F [nucular nyandrothol] says

    3 & 4:

    You’re missing the obvious point of security theatre, something which requires, erm, theatre. It is nothing more, and nothing less.

    One site I read occasionally always refers to these stories as “FBI foils yet another terrorist plot by the FBI”.

  5. atheist says

    Wars that seed future wars? The FBI recruiting terrorists? The USA’s all about the self-licking ice cream cones nowadays.

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