The two men had been charged with conspiring to blow up the Herald Square subway station. They had drawn crude diagrams of the station, and they had been recorded talking about where in the station would be best to put a bomb. So they must have been terrorists... Right?
Well, no! Not exactly. They didn't have any bombs, and neither of them had any knowledge of explosives. They weren't affiliated -- or even communicating -- with any terrorist group. Their only direction, motivation, and "theological underpinnings" were provided by a man named Osama Eldawoody, who strangely enough was not charged in connection with the so-called terrorist plot.
Although it would seem that Eldawoody was in on the conspiracy, and in fact it seems quite clear that he was the leader of the conspiracy, Eldawoody was immune to prosecution -- because he was working for the FBI. He was paid more than $100,000 for three years' work, visiting mosques and Islamic bookstores, looking for dim-witted, gullible, young Islamic men, who if properly stoked could eventually be persuaded to draw crude diagrams of a subway station ... and to talk about planting a bomb there. Eldawoody held up his end, "befriending" Matin Siraj, driving him home from work, and "instructing" him in a fiery brand of Islam.
The Siraj family had come to the USA to avoid persecution from their Pakistani neighbors who thought they were too "secular" -- not sufficiently militant! And things were going fairly well for them, until 9/11 changed everything for everybody. Suddenly it became very dangerous to be a Muslim in America. Suddenly it became very dangerous to be a Muslim anywhere in the world!
The US bought terror suspects from bounty-hunters roaming the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, who would pick up and sell Afghanis looking to escape the bombing of their homeland. Stuck 'em in a cage in Guantanamo Bay but they couldn't convict any of 'em. Couldn't even charge 'em with anything. So there they sat. Or hung from the ceiling. As the case may be.
Meanwhile, in order to fuel the lagging bogus war on bogus terror, there needed to be some terror in the news. And if not convictions from Gitmo, then what?
By copping a plea, James Elshafay managed to keep most of the details of his case private; he testified in the Siraj trial that he (Elshafay) was taking medication for depression and schizophrenia. Siraj, by all accounts, is simply a little bit slow on the uptake.
Osama Eldawoody used every weapon at his disposal on the dim-wit and the schizophrenic, including showing them photos from Abu Ghraib and telling them it was their duty to Allah to conduct some jihad. And it took him a long time to do it, but he had them all set up before the end of August, 2004. That was an important deadline.
The Republican National Convention was set to begin in NYC at the end of the month, amid howls of protest from New Yorkers who realized that 9/11 must have been an inside job and who were furious that the very same Republicans who had attacked their city in 2001 would hold their big party there, just three years later. As if the attacks weren't bad enough, the Republicans now appeared to be using the wreckage of the WTC as a political prop. And NY was hot. Even at a distance, just reading the news on the net, you could feel the momentum building.
But then Siraj and Elfashay were arrested, and the tables were turned. Suddenly the Republicans could stare down the protesters, wave crude hand-drawn maps of a subway station, and claim their draconian policies -- stripping the Bill of Rights of its meaning, for instance -- were necessary because there were terrorists in our midst. And what could anyone say?
We didn't know then what we know now -- the degree to which Siraj and Elshafay were entrapped. We hadn't yet seen the results of many similar entrapment operations elsewhere in the country. All New Yorkers could do was think "OMG! I ride that subway!" And that jolt of fear at a crucial time is exactly what the entrapment scheme was intended to provide -- and exactly what the bloodsoaked partiers needed.
In January of this year, when Siraj was sentenced to 30 years in prison, his media title went from "alleged terrorist" to simply "terrorist". And his family screamed "entrapment", so they were all arrested. Siraj's mother and sister were released a couple of weeks later, on $35,000 bond. They have a hearing coming up soon and may be deported to Pakistan. But his father is still being held, without charge or hearing, supposedly on an immigration violation. The violation is a minor one -- his visa has expired and his renewal hearing is pending -- and thousands of other immigrants with the same status are free to work and look after their families today. But Matin Siraj's father is in prison because he knows his son was entrapped.
And now that Elshafay has been sentenced, it's an official "conspiracy". By virture of the longer sentence, if nothing else, the news reports now call Matin Siraj "the mastermind" of the plot. And that's not the only questionable point in this report from the AP via WCBS-880 in NYC:
A schizophrenic Staten Island man has been sentenced to five years in prison for conspiring to blow up the Herald Square subway station. James Elshafay had pleaded guilty and testified against the mastermind of the plot, Shahawar Matin Siraj, last year at a federal trial in Brooklyn.Siraj was sentencenced on January 8, 2007. If that qualifies as last year, I'll eat your coat. And if the AP can't check a simple fact like the date of the sentencing, how can they be expected to explore the serious questions?
Siraj and Elshafay were caught with crude diagrams of the Herald Square station in August, 2004 - just before the Republican National Convention. Prosecutors say the men wanted to avenge the abuses of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison.
Authorities add that the men never obtained explosives and had not been linked to known terrorist groups.
Elshafay told jurors at Siraj's trial that he was taking medication for depression and schizophrenia. He testified that after meeting Siraj at an Islamic bookstore, they talked about blowing up four bridges connecting Staten Island to Brooklyn and New Jersey - but never followed through.
Siraj was sentenced last year to 30 years in prison.
Don't answer that unless you want to.
Becky Akers: When The Devil Creates A Devil
Becky Akers with Scott Horton on Antiwar Radio
Siraj's attorney, Martin Stolar, with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!
seventh in a series