Year of the Rats

How the FBI’s terror informants brought down a Bronx jazz musician

Shah and Shelby took a train to meet Soufan, where the agent told his new recruit that he was looking for an instructor in hand-to-hand combat for domestic operations. Shah said that he would rather work overseas, but, according to the agent’s testimony, Soufan offered the struggling musician $1,000 a week if he agreed to stay in the country. Shah signed on, and even volunteered the commitment of a friend in Boca Raton, Florida, a Columbia University–educated physician and Black Muslim convert by the name of Rafiq Sabir, who Shah said would provide medical assistance to injured jihadis. Soufan called the deception a “proactive counterterrorism operation,” designed, he told the court, “to reach out to individuals who wanted to be Al Qaeda members, make them believe that they actually get their goals in reaching Al Qaeda, and then we stop them before they hurt people.”

In the early-morning hours of May 28, 2005, after returning home from two late-night gigs, Shah was roused out of bed by seven federal agents, slapped in handcuffs, and driven down to the FBI’s Manhattan field office. Shah refused to sign a form waiving his rights, but after three hours of questioning and an offer of leniency, he agreed to go with federal agents to Baltimore and set up a former karate student, D.C. cab driver Mahmud Faruq Brent, in a wiretapped hotel room.

The FBI accused Brent of traveling to Pakistan in the months after 9/11 to train with an anti-Indian terrorist cell in Kashmir. He pled guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison last summer. Like Shah, Sabir (the physician) was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group: He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 25 years in prison last fall. Farhane, the bookstore owner, was charged with lying to a federal agent, as well as with the same conspiracy charge leveled against Sabir and Shah. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 13 years.

Shah initially pleaded not guilty, but at his trial, his attorneys never raised the troubled histories of the two men, Alanssi and Shelby, who helped to put him behind bars. He later changed his plea and received a 15-year sentence. He currently sits in the Federal Correctional Institution in Petersburg, Virginia.

The FBI wouldn’t disclose Alanssi’s or Shelby’s current whereabouts.

Agent Soufan, meanwhile, left the bureau after the close of the investigation to take a job at Giuliani Partners.

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