Newburgh Four: Poor, Black, and Jailed Under FBI 'Entrapment' Tactics
In June, four men were jailed for 25 years over a US terror plot. The FBI painted them as dedicated fanatics, but were they lured by the promise of cash from a fake informant?
By Paul Harris in New York
December 12, 2011 "The Guardian" - - Imam Salahuddin Muhammad could hardly miss Shahed Hussain when he first appeared three years ago at his mosque in the dilapidated town of Newburgh, just 60 miles up the Hudson River from New York.
Hussain was flash, drove expensive cars and treated people to gifts of cash and food. He also had radical opinions that stood out in a mosque that welcomed Shia and Sunni followers and had good relations with local Jewish and Christian communities.
"This guy said women should not be heard, not be seen. I thought that was strange," Muhammad told the Guardian as he sat in his office inside Newburgh's mosque." Muhammad, who is a black American convert, had no idea how strange things would get.
Hussain would make Newburgh's Muslim community famous when earlier this year four other black Newburgh Muslims were jailed for 25 years for a 2009 plot to fire a Stinger missile at US military planes. They also planted car bombs, packed with lethal ball bearings, outside Jewish targets in the wealthy New York suburb of Riverdale.
Prosecutors painted them as America-hating terrorists bent on slaughter. All four followed the instructions of Hussain, who meticulously organised the scheme: from getting the missile and bombs, to reconnaissance missions, to teaching the tenets of radical Islam.
The "Newburgh Four" now languish in jail. Hussain does not. For Hussain was a fake. In fact, Hussain worked for the FBI as an informant trawling mosques in hope of picking up radicals.
Yet far from being active militants, the four men he attracted were impoverished individuals struggling with Newburgh's grim epidemic of crack, drug crime and poverty. One had mental issues so severe his apartment contained bottles of his own urine. He also believed Florida was a foreign country.
Hussain offered the men huge financial inducements to carry out the plot – including $250,000 to one man – and free holidays and expensive cars.