:bism: (In the Name of God, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful)
Use of informants in Muslim-American communities sparks concern
Niraj Warikoo , Detroit Free Press 2:35 p.m. EDT October 16, 2016
He was a 21-year-old man working long hours at his dad's pizzeria in Detroit, desperate for love after the sudden breakup with a woman he wanted to marry.
"Being lonely hurts," Khalil Abu-Rayyan texted in December.
By early February, the Dearborn Heights man wanted to kill himself.
"Just tie a rope on the ceiling fan, then put a chair, and I tie my neck around the rope, and then I take the chair," Abu-Rayyan told a woman on the phone on Feb. 2, according to a FBI recording of the call. "And only like a minute or two, it'd be over."
Abu-Rayyan thought he was speaking to a 19-year-old Iraqi-American Muslim woman named Jannah.
She actually was an undercover FBI employee, the second FBI undercover employee who entered his life. Her response to Abu-Rayyan that night seemed to suggest to him that suicide for a larger religious cause was legitimate.
“When it’s for the sake of Allah, when it’s jihad, or when it’s based on our aqidah (Islamic creed) or for a cause, that's the only time Allah...allows it," the FBI employee posing as 'Jannah' said over the phone. "But not to put your life to waste and just hang yourself like you say you want to do."
Abu-Rayyan was arrested two days after the Feb. 2 phone call. A federal indictment unsealed the same day said Abu-Rayyan had talked of "committing acts of terror and martydom — including brutal acts against police officers, churchgoers and others — on behalf of" ISIS.
The actions of the undercover FBI employee are part of what civil rights advocates and Muslim-American leaders say is a pattern of abuse by the U.S. government in using informants or undercover FBI employees to target Muslim-Americans. In recent years, the FBI has used informants in undercover investigations with greater frequency, according to advocates and experts.
U.S. officials, including the head of the FBI in Detroit, Special Agent in Charge David Gelios, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch strongly defend the use of informants, saying they only target people who have already expressed intentions to commit criminal behavior.
Using informants is "a legitimate tool in combating terrorism," Gelios said.
In metro Detroit, two other cases involving undercover FBI agents or informants have played out in courtrooms this year: a Dearborn man, Mohammad Hamdan, whom prosecutors said was going to fight for Hizballah, classified as a terrorist group by the U.S., and a Detroit man, Sebastian Gregerson, 29, whom the FBI seeks to link to terrorists and who was charged with possessing and receiving explosives.
But none of the men has been charged with any terrorism crimes, drawing criticism from civil rights advocates who say that even after using informants who seek to push suspects to terrorism, the U.S. government is unable to bring terror charges.
Local Muslim leaders who head mosques say they have nothing to hide but are concerned about the FBI going after young men who might be mentally unstable or have emotional problems who can be manipulated.
In addition, critics accuse the FBI of pressuring Muslims in the U.S. to become informants and spy on their own communities. In April, a lawsuit was filed against the FBI and other federal agencies by the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, saying that Muslim-Americans from Michigan and other states were being pressured to become informants.
In one case, a 24-year-old Yemeni-American from Dearborn, Osama Ahmed, said he was stopped and interrogated at the airport after flying back from Yemen when he was 18 and then later pressured by FBI agents to become an informant in order to get off a no-fly list. A similar lawsuit was filed this month in Texas by the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America on behalf of a Muslim immigrant, Mohamed Al Seraji, who said he was asked to spy on local Muslims in exchange for getting permission to work in the U.S.
Across the nation, undercover agents or informants are being used in terrorism investigations that are leading to convictions. In May, three Somali-Americans in Minnesota were found guilty of trying to join ISIS, the result of a two-year investigation involving a paid informant, who secretly recorded them.
Of the 104 individuals charged with ISIS-related offenses in the U.S. since March 2014, 58% of their cases involve informants or undercover agents, said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security.
"The FBI is responsible for more terrorism plots in the United States than any other organization," said author and journalist Trevor Aaronson, whose book "The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terror" details the agency's use of informants. According to Aaronson, the FBI now has "more than 15,000 informants whose primary purpose is to infiltrate Muslim communities."
Abu-Rayyan's defense attorney, Todd Shanker, said his client was harmless, an emotionally vulnerable young man manipulated by two undercover FBI employees: "The government clearly exploited Rayyan, and blatantly attempted to steer him toward terrorism as an acceptable form of suicide before God."
"This misuse of informants not only damages relationships with Muslim-American communities, it erodes the trust that is necessary if Muslim citizens are going to come forward with tips about individuals who really do pose a substantial danger," said Shanker. "Sting operations like the one used in this case breed fear and distrust without making us any safer."
Abu-Rayyan pled guilty in September, 2016 , to two gun charges. Prosecutors have accused him of sympathizing with ISIS and planning to attack a Detroit church, claims he strongly denies. He has not been charged with any terrorism crime.
The use of informants comes as the U.S. is facing the growing threat of radicals who may be inspired by ISIS and other militant groups to carry out terrorist attacks inside the U.S. From San Bernardino, Calif., to Orlando to New York City this month, terrorist attacks this year have prompted calls for the FBI to step up its investigations.