Najibullah Zazi has appeared in court in New York to plead not guilty to conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. He is accused of being part of what is generally considered to be the most serious terrorism case inside the US since 9/11.
Authorities say it bears many similarities to the 7/7 London attacks, and could have resulted in significant loss of life if the plot hadn’t been disrupted.
Zazi had actually bought chemicals he needed to make a bomb. He had attended an al-Qaida training camp in Pakistan, and he had stored on his laptop nine pages of instructions for making bombs from the chemicals he had bought.
The fact that Zazi posed a real danger makes this story very different from dozens of other American terrorism cases in which the arrests are announced with great fanfare but on closer examination seem to contain almost no legitimate threats.
All too often it seems like it’s the FBI undercover agents who do most of the plotting and provide most of the materials.
Even the New York Times says: “In recent years, foiled plots announced with fanfare in Washington have sometimes involved unsophisticated people who seemed hardly capable of organizing a major attack.”
There were two other terror arrests in the US last week, unrelated to the Zazi case, and both seemed to orchestrated by undercover agents
A 19-year-old Jordanian immigrant was arrested in Texas on Thursday for plotting to blow up a 60-storey office building in Dallas. But he never posed any real threat.
There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that he had any plans to attack Americans before he was befriended by an FBI agent posing as a senior member of an al-Qaida sleeper cell. He met with agents several times over the next few months to discuss possible targets.
When the time came to carry out the attack, it was the FBI who gave him an SUV with a fake bomb inside it. They gave him a mobile phone and the number he was to dial to supposedly detonate the explosives.
After they failed to explode (obviously), he was arrested for trying to use weapons of mass destruction. And the FBI can claim to have foiled a major terror plot – albeit one that would never have existed unless they had dreamt it up.
On the same day as the Dallas arrest, another man was detained in Springfield, Illinois, and charged with plotting to blow up the federal building. Michael Finton is a red-haired Caucasian US citizen, but he called himself Talib Islam and claimed to hate America.
But it does not seem like he planned to do anything about that hatred until he was approached by FBI agents once again posing as al-Qaida. And yet again, they supplied him with a vehicle he thought was packed with explosives and arrested him after he tried to set off the bomb with an FBI cell phone.
Karen J Greenberg, from the Centre on Law and Security at New York University law school, has studied all the prosecutions of terrorism-related crimes since 2001, and she is quoted as saying many had turned out to be “fantasy terrorism cases” where the threat seemed modest or even nonexistent.
But there is nothing modest about the way the FBI trumpet their supposed success in the cases.
A few years ago they would also have led to the terror threat level being increased, heavily armed police and roadblocks throughout major cities, and the general level of fear being ramped up too.
At least the Obama administration doesn’t seem to pay very much attention to these “fantasy cases”.