Are all means justified in the fight against terrorism?
This is a question for all democratic countries. Especially the US where, to hunt jihadi apprentices in America, the FBI uses a growing army of undercover operatives, who are accused of sometimes pushing impressionable minds to commit terrorist attacks.
Working under cover and benefitting from legal immunity, these infilitrators can even go so far as to designate a target or provide weapons in order to better deceive terrorist suspects. According to human rights organizations, this amounts to “creating the terrorist” on the pretext of combating terrorism.
This situation is inevitable, according to Mubin Shaikh, a former Canadian undercover agent and author of Undercover Jihadi. He justifies this sort of action by saying:
“We need the suspects to be convinced that you are on their side. You must play the game, do what they tell you. Otherwise, the whole operation is compromised.”
According to him, making suggestions is all part of the “game”. He recalls a conversation he once had with an alleged extremist. “In December we may organize a training camp. Would you like to come along and train a few guys? He understood perfectly well, but refused: ‘No, brother, I’m here to study religion’. From this, I concluded that he was not the type of peson we were looking for, as he did not bite the bait. But, if I say exactly the same thing to someone who says ‘yes’, then it’s not entrapment, he is simply caught.”
According to agreed figures, the FBI has at least 15,000 underground informants, who are often generously paid and involved in a wide range of investigations, from pedophile rings to the drugs trade. But identifying ISIS supporters, the number of which has increased “spectacularly”, is now the focus of all efforts. James Comey, FBI chief, stated on 8 October that:
“This summer, we have tracked dozens and dozens of people, over the whole of the United States. We have disrupted the plans of many terrorists.”
The only thing is that, in some cases, infiltrators apply pressure to encourage suspects to commit terrorist acts that they might not otherwise have committed.
On the 10 April, the FBI announced the arrest of a man, John Booker, who was on the verge of carrying out a suicide attack using a car bomb against a Kansas military base. But according to the investigation report, seen by AFP, Booker was subject to FBI manipulation for six months. It was the undercover agents who helped the jihadi apprentice to make his martyrdom video. They provided a list of the necessary components to make his bomb. Finally, they constructed the device – which in fact was disactivated – and gave it to the suspect along with the car.
In a July 2014 report, the human rights NGO Human Rights Watch accused the FBI of “creating terrorists’ by targeting vulnerable people in its operations. This is the focus of a documentary “(T) ERROR”, which appeared this year at the Sundance festival. Murtaza Hussain co-directed a very informative investigation released in late June on the “Fort Dix Five”, a group of Albanian men involved in planning an attack against a military base in New Jersey. Four were sentenced to life imprisonment, including three brothers.
Before their arrest in 2007, they had been placed under surveillance eighteen months after a holiday video showing them shooting at targets in nature – a popular hobby in the United States – shouting “Allah is the greatest”. They had previously shown no inclination for terrorism. In footage secretly filmed by the FBI, the undercover agent quite clearly pushes the Albanians to stage a terrorist attack, despite their reluctance. The agent rebukes the brothers:
“You live according to the Koran, yet you do not fight for Muslims! Make your minds up!”
Murtaza Hussain concludes that the use of infiltrators “is a necessary strategy, but one that we should use in moderation and only for proven plots”.
He regrets that “there is a now a real sense of paranoia, especially in the Muslim community. They can no longer discuss or engage in political campaigns without fear that someone in their entourage is an informant.”
The FBI officially admits that the use of informants “may include an element of deceit, interference in private lives or cooperation with people whose seriousness and motivations are dubious.”
But to justify its actions, the FBI points out that the judiciary acknowledged that this method was”legal and often vital to the success” of an investigation. In addition, the FBI assures that the use of informants “is subject to careful assessment and close supervision in order to ensure that rights of people under investigation are not violated.”
Many think that some “radicalized” Americans are basically young misfits, for whom the internet offers a way of feeling that they exist. This is the case of a young Jewish boy living with his parents in Florida, Ryne Joshua Goldberg, who had created a second life by pretending to live in Australia and inundated social network sites messages advocating jihad. He was caught by the FBI, to whom he sent information on how to make a bomb. Arrested last month, this boy of twenty may spend the next twenty years in prison.
Another example is Ali Amin, a skinny teenager from Virginia, who was sentenced in late August to eleven years in prison for having supported ISIS on his Twitter account, which numbered some 4000 subscribers. For the former undercover agent Mubin Shaikh, this “skinny, weakling” is a “tragic case.”
“This kid went from ‘zero’ to ‘hero’, thanks to 140 characters (a message on Twitter). Suddenly, he becomes important, people consult him for a religious opinion …”
On the other hand, he continues, “when such guys connect to the internet to spread the ideology of ISIS, attempt to indoctrinate and recruit people, are we not forced to take action?”
Yes, but how far and how?
Article Translated from French