The United States Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, the New York field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Ray Kelly, the New York Police Department (NYPD) commissioner, have stopped another individual from committing an act of terrorism. So it seems.
An FBI press release announced that charges against Ahmed Abassi, a 26-year-old Tunisian student, were unsealed today. He is charged with “fraudulently applying for a work visa in order to remain in the United States to facilitate an act of international terrorism.” That is a sensational embellishment of the facts when he is only charged with visa offenses and no terrorism offenses.
His case is reportedly connected to that of the two individuals who were arrested in Canada by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for allegedly plotting to “blow up and derail a Toronto passenger train” on April 22, 2013.
Abassi was arrested on April 22 in the US. He was arraigned before a US district judge on May 2, which raises the issue of presentment because US authorities did not bring him before a judge within 48 hours.
The New York Times reported:
The government said that after Mr. Abassi’s arrest on April 22, he was briefly questioned without being advised of his rights, under what is known as the public safety exception to the Miranda Rule. On repeated days, without a lawyer, he knowingly and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights and his right to a speedy court presentment, and was questioned by the Joint Terrorist Task Force “on a near-daily basis” through April 29, prosecutors said.
It was during those talks, prosecutors said, that he “acknowledged that he may have radicalized Esseghaier, and explained that he and Esseghaier discussed plots to poison a water system and to derail a passenger train.” [emphasis added]
The Times further reported that, according to a transcript, a prosecutor on May 2 asked “that the case remain secret for one week to determine whether Mr. Abassi would be ‘in a cooperative posture with the government.’”
From what the prosecutors say, it would appear Abassi confessed to planning terror acts and did so without feeling the need to have a lawyer present.
According to a letter filed by prosecutors, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, federal agents “questioned Mr. Abassi both before and after reading him his Miranda rights, which allow him to decline to answer questions without an attorney present. Some of the questioning was done under a public-safety exception to Miranda.”
Abassi, after being given a Miranda warning, “acknowledged his possible role in radicalizing Mr. Esseghaier” (one of the individuals arrested in Canada) and “explained that he and Esseghaier discussed plots to poison a water system and to derail a passenger train.” However, “there was no active poisoning plot, prosecutors said, and the suspects’ plans never posed a threat to the public.”
Yet, the Associated Press reported, “Abassi denied the immigration fraud charges during a secret arraignment a week ago, telling the judge, ‘Your Honor, I am not guilty.’ His lawyer Sabrina Shroff said he ‘flatly denies the accusations in the indictment.’”
Returning to the FBI’s press release, the work of an “undercover officer” (UC) is mentioned. The FBI also states Abassi was “under surveillance by law enforcement agents at all times.”
Those familiar may find the following sounds like another example of the FBI attempting to manufacture and thwart its own terror plot:
Abassi, who previously resided in Canada, traveled to the United States in mid-March 2013, where he remained until his arrest. While in the United States, Abassi, who was under surveillance by law enforcement agents at all times, maintained regular contact with an FBI undercover officer (the UC) and also met with Chiheb Esseghaier in New York City. Esseghaier, who was recently arrested in Canada and is currently incarcerated there on terrorism charges, was previously radicalized by Abassi. During Abassi’s discussions with Esseghaier and with the UC, which were recorded by the UC, Abassi discussed his desire to engage in terrorist acts against targets in the United States and other countries and his intention to provide support and funding to organizations engaged in terrorist activity—including the al Nusrah Front, which is recognized by the U.S. Department of State as an alias for Al Qaeda in Iraq—and to recruit other individuals for terrorist plots. In particular, Abassi discussed with the UC a number of individuals known to Abassi and/or to his associates, whom he described as like- minded and who, in his view, would be willing to engage in terrorist activity.
On April 12, 2013, Abassi and the UC discussed Abassi’s efforts to recruit others for terrorist plots and that he might be able to obtain immigration documents to remain in the United States, purportedly in order to work for the UC’s U.S.-based company. In reality, Abassi made clear that he wanted to obtain immigration documents and to remain in the United States so that he could engage in “projects” relating to future terrorist activities, including recruitment. Thereafter, Abassi made false statements on two immigration forms, under penalty of perjury, and subsequently mailed those forms to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for processing. [emphasis added]
Multiple questions should be asked. What kind of business was this presumably made-up US-based company? What did Abassi think he would be doing if he got the right immigration documents? Did the undercover agent advise Abassi to falsify immigration documents so he could work for the company? Or, did it go a step further? Did the undercover agent advise Abassi to work at his company because it would make it easier to recruit and plan terror attacks?
The answers to those questions would indicate whether the undercover agent was trying to get Abassi to commit visa fraud so the FBI would have a pretext to arrest him and subject him to interrogations, which could produce additional evidence for issuing a second indictment alleging he conspired to commit an act of terrorism.
Why did Abassi discuss his “desire to engage in terrorist acts against the United States”? Because the undercover agent asked him if he would have a desire?
How did the undercover agent find out Abassi had an “intention to provide support and funding to organizations engaged in terrorist activity—including the al Nusrah Front”? Did the undercover agent say something about providing support and funding to organizations that engage in terrorist activity and Abassi went along with what the undercover agent was saying?
Was Abassi willing to go recruit people because the undercover agent was suggesting they go recruit people?
Abassi’s lawyer suggested to The Globe and Mail in Canada, “Mr. Abassi, who arrived in Canada from Tunisia on a student’s visa in 2010, could never have set foot in the United States without security officials’ permission or advance knowledge.” She added, “It certainly raises a question about the government…Aren’t they the ones that issued him a visa?”
Notably, Abassi said all that he did to the undercover agent and all they could indict him on were visa offenses. That alone should have people asking questions.
These are entirely reasonable questions and questions anyone covering this story should be asking. Trevor Aaronsen, author of The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, has covered extensively how the FBI hatches its own terror plots. He told TPM, “Regardless of the actual details of the plan, the dance between the undercover agents posing as terrorists and the subject of the operation played out pretty much the way it always does.”
The targets of investigations are approached by informants (or undercover agents). They discuss some plot. Typically, the target has no capacity to commit any act of terrorism. However, the FBI provides the target with “the means to prove the terrorist conspiracy that they need for the indictment.”
What is remarkable in this case is, if this is a sting operation similar to other operations where those arrested have alleged entrapment, it will have involved law enforcement authorities in Canada. The operation will not have been limited to the United States.
Canada’s government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently exploited the alleged plot thwarted on April 22 and the Boston bombing to push through a bill that expanded the government’s authoritarian counterterrorism powers. In the wake of the arrests, it was reported by Embassy in Canada that Canadian and US police agencies were “locked in private talks over how to effectively launch pilot projects that would allow American agents from organizations like the FBI and the US Drug Enforcement Administration to be accredited as police officers in Canada, with the power to arrest individuals on the street like any Canadian cop.”
Thus, one should ask if the FBI has decided it is not enough for the FBI to only manufacture terror plots in the United States. The FBI wants to help Canadian law enforcement mount their own sting operations against Muslims they think are undergoing “radicalization.”
Abassi is linked to the two individuals whose arrest was timed to help the Harper government expand its power to fight “terrorism.” The Canadian police and FBI were tracking the three all along and yet, why did Abassi end up in the United States? Which suggests at some point during the operation something went awry and Abassi peeled off. Pushing him to commit visa fraud may have been the tying up of a loose end.
It is a distinct possibility Abassi and the two individuals arrested in Canada desired to commit attacks. They may have become so radical that they hated both Canada and the United States and wanted to launch an attack to send a message. But, that does not diminish the serious issues arising from the law enforcement practice of helping to facilitate terror conspiracies, which authorities can then claim they thwarted as if they were not actively involved in conceiving or planning the conspiracies.