Siraj was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2007 for conspiring to plant bombs in New York City. The way he got there is similar to a spate of US ‘stings’ to capture terror suspects since 9/11
Shawahar Matin Siraj was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2007 after he pleaded guilty to conspiring to plant bombs at a Manhattan subway station near the Republican National Convention in 2004. As is frequent in post-9/11 domestic counter-terrorism investigations, a new Human Rights Watch report documents, Siraj might never have gotten there but for the involvement of someone else: an older man at a mosque in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighborhood who posed as a nuclear engineer and cancer patient with a deep knowledge of Islam.
When they met in September 2003, Siraj was 21, working at his father’s Islamic bookstore. New York magazine would later report that he “regularly engaged in virulent anti-American tirades”, piquing the curiosity of law enforcement. The older man would later testify that he and Siraj developed a father-son relationship, perhaps since he said he had cancer and Siraj’s father was disabled. Siraj, he judged, was “impressionable”.
When word of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke the next year, Siraj received a barrage of images from the older man of US forces abusing Muslims. Then his friend recommended inflammatory websites for Siraj to view. He intimated to Siraj that he lamented “dying without a purpose” as Siraj became “inflamed by emotions”.
The older man worked with Siraj and Siraj’s friend James Elshafay to fashion a “purpose” worth dying for: the bomb plot. He drove Siraj to Herald Square and instructed Siraj to place explosives in the trash cans. Only Siraj exhibited doubts, saying he had to “ask my mom’s permission” and saying he preferred to be a lookout. Soon after, Siraj was arrested.
His older friend, in reality, was a New York police department informant named Osama Eldawoody, who had taped their conversations. Eldawoody had been casing mosques in Brooklyn and Staten Island for behavior he deemed suspicious. It was a lucrative business: CBS reported in 2006 that Eldawoody made $100,000 over three years of informing.
“Thanks to the extraordinary work of law enforcement, the defendants’ plot did not advance beyond the planning stage, and the public was never at risk,” Rosylnn Mauskopf, then the US attorney for eastern New York, said after Siraj’s sentencing.
Spencer Ackerman in New York
theguardian.com, Monday 21 July 2014 17.53 BST
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