(MintPress)— When Amine el-Khalifi was arrested on Friday, he thought he was wearing an explosive devise intended for a suicide attack on the U.S. Capitol. El Khalifi was unaware that the explosives were actually inoperable and provided by undercover FBI agents, not al-Qaeda operatives. The federal involvement in the attempted terrorist operation resulting from interactions […]
(MintPress)— When Amine el-Khalifi was arrested on Friday, he thought he was wearing an explosive devise intended for a suicide attack on the U.S. Capitol. El Khalifi was unaware that the explosives were actually inoperable and provided by undercover FBI agents, not al-Qaeda operatives.
The federal involvement in the attempted terrorist operation resulting from interactions between El Khalifi and FBI agents posing as al-Qaeda operatives leaves many experts reevaluating the ethicality of sting operations and the fine line between undercover investigation and entrapment.
“The explosives and firearm that he [El Khalifi] allegedly sought to use had been rendered inoperable by law enforcement and posed no threat to the public,” the FBI said in a statement.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation had been tracking El Khalifi in an undercover terrorism investigation for over a year before providing El Khalifi with weapons for the staged attack.
Khalifi, a 29-year old illegal Moroccan immigrant living in Virginia on an expired tourist Visa since 1999, came under the attention of the FBI when a confidential informant notified the FBI that El Khalifi met with an armed individual at his home to discuss the war on terrorism.
According to the FBI affidavit in support of the criminal complaint and arrest warrant, “El Khalifi expressed agreement with a statement by this individual that the ‘war on terrorism’ was a ‘war on Muslims,’ and said that the group needed to be ready for war.”
The FBI monitored El Khalifi, and in December 2011, he was introduced to a man known as “Yusuf,” an undercover FBI agent posing as a member of an armed extremist group; El Khalifi is said to have expressed interest in becoming associated with the group.
El Khalifi allegedly proposed several operations that he wished to conduct in order to kill a group of people, ideally 30 or more. Among the proposed targets were a synagogue, restaurant, and a military office building.
The FBI reported that on January 15, 2012, El Khalifi changed his plans and determined that the U.S. Capitol would be the target of a suicide bombing, not the restaurant as previously decided.
The affidavit did not specify what prompted El Khalifi to change his target and attack methods.
The FBI report outlines the various steps that El Khalifi took on his own to dictate the procedures of the operation, implying that El Khalifi would have carried out an offense without the meddling of law enforcement. However, many critics would not be surprised if the FBI played a larger role than originally reported in instigating the decision-making of the operation, leading to a case of criminal entrapment.
The FBI – Instigating Terrorism on U.S. Soil?
Danny Schechter, an award-winning independent journalist and filmmaker, told Al Jazeera, “We’ve seen things along these lines for years now, of entrapment as a technique supposedly for investigative purposes, but actually for presecutorial purposes.”
Schechter is among those who believe the FBI uses entrapment, the conduct by which a law enforcement agent induces a person to engage in criminal activities he/she would otherwise be unlikely to commit, to compile evidence that may be used to obtain an arrest warrant and prosecute suspected individuals in court.
The FBI has been accused of entrapment in several past cases, including a 2009 incident where four men were arrested in a plot to bomb synagogues in the Bronx and attack a military plane above the Stewart Air National Guard Base. The men claimed they were entrapped by FBI informant, Shahed Hussain. At one point Hussain reportedly offered James Cromitie, believed to be the group leader, $250 million and a BMW if he carried out the mission successfully.
Alicia McWilliams, the aunt of one of the victims believes the men were simply poor and vulnerable. “These guys ain’t got a passport…they ain’t got no money. Where you going to find C-4 in the hood?” McWilliams asked. “You didn’t stumble upon a cell. You created a cell.”
Ashraf Nubani, a Muslim lawyer in Washington who has defended terrorism suspects in cases similar to those of Cromitie and El Khalifi, told the Washington Post that the FBI creates attempted terrorist attacks through their manipulation of individuals.
According to Nubani, the FBI is in full control from beginning to end in an FBI sting that involves a law-enforcement officer as a criminal partner in an operation designed to catch a person while committing a crime. “But you can’t create a terrorism case and then say you stopped it,” said Nubani. “Had the FBI not been involved, through their manipulation or informants, would the same thing have happened? Would there be attempted violence?”
The FBI could have deported El Khalifi in January 2011 when he was brought to the attention of the FBI or put under surveillance to determine whether El Khalifi would seek support from terrorist cells on his own.
Instead, the FBI engaged El Khalifi is what it deems a preemptive, preventative strategy. Since 2001, 508 defendants have been arrested in federal terrorism cases. Of these, 243 were targeted with an informant, 158 were arrested in a sting operation, and 49 were arrested in a plot led by the informant.
The FBI claims that El Khalifi knowingly and unlawfully attempted to attack U.S. property with weapons of mass destruction and that there is no doubt Khalifi desired to carry out a terrorist attack on U.S. soil regardless of FBI involvement. Given the available case information, the FBI believes it has successfully prevented a terrorist attack by staging a favorable opportunity for an eager El Khalifi to commit a crime without entrapping the suspect.
However, it remains impossible to know whether El Khalifi would have had the means and opportunity to plot and carry-out a similar attack without the support of undercover FBI agents. This will likely remain unknown until El Khalifi’s case is heard in court.