Documents provide rare insight into FBI’s terrorism stings
By Peter Finn, Published: April 13
Days before his arrest in Pittsburgh last month, Khalifa Ali al-Akili posted a remarkable message on his Facebook page: A mysterious man who spoke often of jihad had tried to interest Akili in buying a gun, then later introduced him to a second man, whom Akili was assured was “all about the struggle.”
It smelled, Akili wrote on Facebook, like a setup.
“I had a feeling that I had just played out a part in some Hollywood movie where I had just been introduced to the leader of a ‘terrorist’ sleeper cell,” Akili wrote.
When he googled a phone number provided by the second man, it turned out to be to Shahed Hussain, one of the FBI’s most prolific and controversial informants for terrorism cases. Soon the sting was off; Akili was subsequently arrested on gun — not terrorism — charges, which he has denied.
It was a rare miss for Hussain, 55, who has played a wealthy, dapper member of a Pakistani terrorist group in several FBI operations over nearly a decade.
This role has inflamed Muslim and civil rights activists, who describe Hussain as an “agent provocateur,” and prompted harsh comments from the presiding judge in a 2010 case, who questioned his honesty and the aggressiveness of the FBI’s tactics.
“I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition,” said U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon at the sentencing of four men from Newburgh, N.Y., convicted on terrorism charges. She added, “That does not mean there was no crime.”
Hussain declined to speak about his work for the FBI, saying in a brief phone interview, “I can’t say anything for security reasons.” The FBI declined to discuss Hussain or McMahon’s comments.