Once considered so dangerous by the U.S. Department of Justice that he was kept in solitary confinement for more than six months, Abdulrahman Farhane, a Moroccan-born U.S. citizen, will be released today from a Brooklyn halfway house, not far from where he once operated an Islamic bookstore.
Farhane will be the 417th defendant to be released following a conviction on terrorism-related charges after the 9/11 attacks. He pleaded guilty to his role in what the government described as a plot to send money to fighters in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Farhane was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
His case was a touchstone in the war on terror, because it involved one of the earliest investigations after 9/11 as well as two informants and two FBI agents who all would become notable figures in their own rights.
Farhane, a father of six children whose House of Knowledge on Atlantic Avenue sold religious books, bumper sticks, and various gadgets, came to the FBI’s attention in the days after 9/11 when an informant claimed the bookstore owner had “radical views of Islam.” The informant, Mohamed Alanssi, was a Yemeni man who had worked at the U.S. Embassy in Sana in the 1970s. He had a trail of debts and a history of failed businesses in Yemen and the United States, and his handler at the FBI was agent Robert Fuller (who later played a role in the extraordinary rendition of Canadian Maher Arar and oversaw the controversial FBI sting involving the so-called Newburgh Four).
Alanssi discussed with Farhane the possibility of sending money to Afghanistan and Chechnya. Alanssi made it clear in these conversations that he wanted the money sent to terrorists, and Farhane wanted to help, according to FBI recordings. (Farhane later told the FBI in an interview that “he did not want to be rude” to his customer.) Farhane then introduced Alanssi to Tarik Shah, a jazz bassist who played at Bill Clinton’s inauguration, telling the FBI informant that Shah could help him smuggle money out of the country.
The FBI informant nurtured his relationships with Farhane and Shah, but couldn’t push the case forward. After two years, the FBI introduced a second informant, an ex-convict and former Black Panther named Saeed Torres (who also went by the name Theodore Shelby). Torres, who was later featured in the documentary “(T)ERROR,” rented an apartment in a building in the Bronx owned by Shah’s mother, and recorded conversations with Shah in which the jazz bassist obsessed about martial arts and his ambitions to train Muslims in hand-to-hand combat. Torres then introduced Shah and one of his friends, a doctor named Rafiq Sabir, to an undercover FBI agent, who led them in a pledge to Al Qaeda. The agent, Ali Soufan, later spoke out publicly about CIA torture and started a security consulting company that does business with the Qatari government.
As the FBI was building its case against Farhane, Shah, Sabir, and a Washington, D.C., taxi driver named Mahmud Faruq Brent, Alanssi publicly divorced himself from the FBI. In November 2004, he sent a fax to Fuller, his FBI handler, reading: “Why you don’t care about my life and my family’s life?”
Alanssi, wearing a suit and tie, doused himself in gasoline and walked up to the northwest guardhouse of the White House. He asked the Secret Service agents to deliver a message to President George W. Bush. The guards turned him away. Alanssi then set himself on fire, burning about 30 percent of his body.
The Justice Department first indicted Shah, Sabir, and Brent, and then later added Farhane to the indictment, based on recordings in which Farhane discussed sending money overseas. Farhane and Shah were accused of conspiring to transfer money to be used to buy communications equipment for terrorists. Farhane was also charged with making false statements to the FBI to cover up his involvement, according to the government.
During his first appearance in court, Farhane told the judge: “I’m not guilty. I didn’t do anything. This is my country. I love my country.”
Farhane’s lawyer at the time, Michael Hueston, added: “He had no run-ins with the law until Mr. Alanssi came along.”
While Farhane maintained that he was not involved in terrorism, he pleaded guilty to the charges to avoid a longer prison sentence. Shah and Brent also pleaded guilty, and received sentences of 13 and 15 years, respectively. Sabir was found guilty at trial and received 25 years.
Farhane is the first of the group to be released. Shah and Brent are scheduled to be released from federal prison next summer.