The Most Dangerous Cities In America

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

5. Memphis, Tennessee

> Population: 673,650
> Violent Crime Per 1,000: 15.4
> 2010 Murders: 89
> Median Income: $34,203 (31.8% below national average)
> Unemployment Rate: 9.9% (0.9% above national average)
Memphis has high rates for all the violent crimes considered for 24/7 Wall St.’s rankings. It has the sixth highest rate in the country. Incidents of violent crime in the city dropped slightly less than 15% between 2009 and 2010 though. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton attributes this decrease to Operation Safe Community, a citywide plan developed in 2005. The plan consists of a number of strategies meant to increase crime prevention, through toughening punishments for criminals, and the effectiveness of the city’s legal system, through changes such as expanding court programs so that they operate consistently and at full capacity.

4. New Haven, Connecticut

> Population: 124,856
> Violent Crime Per 1,000: 15.8
> 2010 Murders: 22
> Median Income: $38,279 (23.8% below national average)
> Unemployment Rate: 9.6% (0.6% above national average)
New Haven has historically had the highest rate of violent crime on the east coast. The impoverished, crime-ridden parts of the city stand in stark contrast to affluent Fairfield county to the West, and elite Yale University, which is located within the city itself. The number of murders in the city doubled last year. New Haven has the eighth highest rate of robbery and the fourth highest rate of assault in the U.S. The New Haven Police Department is considering adding cameras at every intersection in one of the neighborhoods where shootings are the most common.

3. St. Louis, Missouri

> Population: 355,151
> Violent Crime Per 1,000: 17.5
> 2010 Murders: 144
> Median Income: $34,801 (30.7% below national average)
> Unemployment Rate: 9.3% (0.3% above national average)
Violent crime in St. Louis fell dramatically between 2009 and 2010, and has decreased since 2007. Despite this, crime rates remain extremely high compared with other cities. In 2010, the city’s murder rate and rate of aggravated assault were each the third worst in the country. With regards to both violent and nonviolent crime, St. Louis was rated the most dangerous city based on FBI data released six months ago. As of December 2010, the murder rate in St. Louis was 6.3 times that of the state of Missouri. The city’s gunshot murder rate for residents between 10 to 19 years old is also the second highest in the country, behind only New Orleans, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2. Detroit, Michigan

> Population: 899,447
> Violent Crime Per 1,000: 18.9
> 2010 Murders: 310
> Median Income: $26,098 (48% below national average)
> Unemployment Rate: 12.7% (3.7% above national average)
The city crippled the most in America’s post-industrial era is almost certainly Detroit. The Motor City has suffered from high rates of unemployment, homelessness, and crime. The city has one of the ten highest rates for three of the four types of violent crime identified by the FBI. Detroit has the sixth highest murder rate, the fifth highest robbery rate, and the second highest rate of aggravated assault. In 2005, a major reorganization of the city’s police department took place after a federal investigation identified inefficiencies within the system. According to an article in The United Press, opponents of Detroit Mayor David Bing called for further intervention by the Justice Department in several shootings that occurred last year.

1. Flint, Michigan

> Population: 109,245
> Violent Crime Per 1,000: 22
> 2010 Murders: 53
> Median Income: $27,049 (46.1% below national average)
> Unemployment Rate: 11.8% (2.8% above national average)
The number of violent crimes committed in Flint, MI, increased for all categories considered for this list between 2009 and 2010. Perhaps most notably, the number of murders in the city increased from 36 to 53. This moves the city from having the seventh highest rate of homicide to the second highest. The number of aggravated assaults increased from 1,529 to 1,579, a rate of 14.6 assaults per 1,000 residents, placing the city in the number one rank for rate of assaults. Flint police chief Alvern Lock stated late last year that he believed the city’s violence stemmed from drugs and gangs. Flint has a relatively small median income of about $27,000 per household. The city also has a poverty rate of 36.2%.
Douglas A. McIntyre, Michael B. Sauter, Charles B. Stockdale

13-22

Fire started at the Houston Masjid Targeted by Arsonists

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

According to Houston Fire Department, the iconic community Masjid (mosque) Madrasae Islamiah located in the 6600 block of Bintliff Drive in southwest Houston was targeted by masked arsonists. Madrasae Islamiah was established in 1989 and seniors at the Masjid have informed that they cannot recall if anything similar had ever happened.

Madrasae Islamiah Room Roof And Lights Have Black Dust From the FireSpeakers Got Black Dust Due to Fire at Madrasae IslamiahTiles And Floor Charred by the Fire at Madrasae IslamiahTiles Burnt by the Arson Fire at Madrasae IslamiahWater Sink is Charred at Madrasae IslamiahAccording to the footage from the surveillance video show two masked men sneaked from the backside of the property adjacent to CarMax. According to one member of the Masjid, who heard the fire alarm to reach the scene of the incident, the two arsonists had smashed in a window, and then doused a room with gasoline into the side prayer hall, before setting the fire. Many of the carpets on the floor got on fire, but the person was able to control much of the fire before it could have gone into the main prayer hall. Also many of the wrapped carpets did not catch the fire; otherwise the catastrophe could have been much more horrific. On Monday when our reporter visited the site, there was evidence of the smoke and flames in the atmosphere throughout the Masjid.

Surveillance video shows men creeping onto the property around 3:30 a.m. on Saturday. The video shows them covering their faces, which suggests that they had either known or feared of cameras on the premises. Few minutes later, they are seen getting into a white or silver four-door car driven by another person.

Talking to local mainstream American media outlets, Zaid Abdul-Aziz, a visitor and former Houston Rocket player, who played under the name Don Smith, said the crime was troubling. “It makes me really worried because Islam respects all religions,” he said.

The alarm sounded when glass was broken, but there was also someone staying inside the mosque who called 9-1-1. The crime, however, have not stopped the regular five times prayers at this populace Masjid.

Talking to various media outlets including Brad Woodard of KHOU 11 News, Atif Fattah, a member of the Masjid and radio programmer himself, said: “They came through here, sprayed gasoline all over the carpet and just torched it. There wasn’t significant damage. It was the act itself that’s scary.”

Mustafa Carroll, with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Houston) said: “It sounded very nefarious, so I called the FBI and asked them to investigate this as a hate crime. We at CAIR have seen a spike in vandalism against Muslims nationwide since the death of Osama bin Laden. You have a small minority of people promoting this kind of thinking and causing people to distrust. When there’s distrust, hate is never far behind,” said Mr. Carroll.

The Houston Fire Department said there’s no question this was a case of arson. Whether it was an actual hate crime has yet to be determined. The FBI and ATF are following the investigation, but at the time of filing of this report, they were not actively involved.

If you know anything about the case, call police or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.

13-21

The UN Report on Ms. Benazir Bhutto’s Death, and the Current Situation

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mahvish Akhtar, MMNS Pakistan Correspondent

The Pakistan People’s Party blames the government of that time for the death of Ms. Bhutto. They claim that the Police could have done much more than they did. Because the PPP knew proper security was not going to be provided that is why they had their own security team.

However things get very hazy when getting into the report as to the whereabouts of the security provided by PPP as well.

Here are some parts of the reports to summaries what the report says and later what is being done after this report has come out.

Parts of Executive Summary of the UN Report:

The Commission was mystified by the efforts of certain high-ranking Pakistani government authorities to obstruct access to military and intelligence sources, as revealed in their public declarations. The extension of the mandate until 31 March enabled the Commission to pursue further this matter and eventually meet with some past and present members of the Pakistani military and intelligence services.

Ms. Bhutto faced threats from a number of sources; these included Al-Qaida, the Taliban, local jihadi groups and potentially from elements in the Pakistani Establishment. Yet the Commission found that the investigation focused on pursuing lower level operatives and placed little to no focus on investigating those further up the hierarchy in the planning, financing and execution of the assassination.

The investigation was severely hampered by intelligence agencies and other government officials, which impeded an unfettered search for the truth. More significantly, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) conducted parallel investigations, gathering evidence and detaining suspects. Evidence gathered from such parallel investigations was selectively shared with the police.

UN Report Blames the military for all Ms. Bhutto’s dismissals:

Her first government ended after just 20 months, and her second lasted less than three years. Both times, she was dismissed by the sitting president, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Leghari, respectively, based on allegations of corruption and nepotism. While both men were civilians, each had close ties to the military. Ms Bhutto and the PPP believed that it was the military, or more broadly, the Establishment, that forced her out.

Who does the Report Blame?

Contrary to the police assertion, there was no police-provided box formation around Ms Bhutto as she arrived at the rally, and the Elite Force unit did not execute their duties as specified in the security deployment. Furthermore, the Commission does not believe that the full escort as described by the police was ever present.

According to the report a bullet proof Mercedez-Benz was supposed to be riding right behind Ms. Bhutto’s vehicle which sped off before the gunshots and the bomb blast. Riding in the black Mercedes-Benz car were the driver, PPP official Mr Faratullah Babar in the front passenger seat and, in the rear passenger seat from left to right, two PPP officials Mr Babar Awan and Mr Rehman Malik and General (ret) Tauqir Zia.

UN Report Findings on the Mercedes Benz:

96. The black bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz car was the first to leave the parking area. It is not clear how much distance there was between this vehicle and the rest of Ms Bhutto’s convoy at the moment of the blast. Credible reports range from 100 meters to 250 meters. Some of those in the car said that they were close enough to Ms Bhutto’s vehicle to feel the impact of the blast. Others at the site of the blast have said that the Mercedes-Benz left Liaquat Bagh so quickly that it was nowhere to be seen when the blast occurred. Indeed, the Commission has not seen this vehicle in the many video images of the exit area it reviewed. Despite the acknowledgement of some occupants of the vehicle that they felt the impact of the blast, the Commission finds it incredible that they drove all the way to Zardari House, a drive of about 20 minutes, before they became aware that Ms Bhutto had been injured in the blast.

They should have stopped at a safe distance when they felt the blast so as to check on Ms Bhutto’s condition, the condition of her vehicle and whether the back-up vehicle was required. Indeed, as the back-up vehicle, the Mercedes-Benz car would have been an essential element of Ms Bhutto’s convoy on the return trip even if the occupants of that car had confirmed that Ms Bhutto had been unscathed in the attack.

The nature of the crowd was not determined because it was slowing the cars down considerably. The crowd was riled up to the point where it started to worry the people inside as to why the crowd was this way and the cars were slowing down. There was a dispute on the route that was taken as well. Neither the PPP nor the Police side of this story has been confirmed.

The protective box that was promised was never formed. The police claims they were about to form the box right when the blast took place but there is no evidence of that event taking place in the videos. The video clearly shows that there were not enough Policemen to push back the crowds to form the box.

Also PPP blames the police for not giving permission for an autopsy on Ms. Bhutto’s body. The police say that that was because they wanted consent from the family which is legally not necessary. The PPP claim that situations were created which made the autopsy harder even when the body was handed over to the relatives. How strong an argument this is for PPP is doubtful since President Zardari, the husband himself refused an autopsy.

The crime scene was completely hosed off right after the event took place. The police say it was because the crowds around it were restless and they needed to be put at ease. Once the scene was cleaned off people started to leave. Also the police claim people were rubbing blood from the scene on their faces thinking its Ms. Bhutto’s blood. However later on it was confirmed that only one person was seen doing such a thing. Hosing down a crime scene is not standard practice in Pakistan.

UN Report on the Crime Scene:

127. Video footage immediately following the blast shows shock, fear and confusion among the people at the scene and little police control. The crime scene was not immediately cordoned off. The police did collect some evidence. Officers from intelligence agencies, including the ISI, the IB and MI, were present and also collected evidence, using, as one Rawalpindi police officer noted, better evidence collection equipment than the police. Within one hour and forty minutes of the blast, however, SP Khurram ordered the fire and rescue officials present to wash the crime scene down with fire hoses. He told the Commission that the police had collected all the available evidence by then. Police records show that only 23 pieces of evidence were collected, in a case where one would normally have expected thousands. The evidence included mostly human body parts, two pistols, spent cartridges and Ms Bhutto’s damaged vehicle.

The report also states that many times people were scared to speak openly. If that is the case then the question arises that if people are not speaking openly then how did the commission get any facts and how did the commission differentiate between facts and comments made out of fear?

UN Report on the Press Conference:

156. At about 1700 hours on the day following the assassination the government held a televised press conference, conducted by Brigadier Cheema, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior at which he announced that: a. Ms Bhutto died from a head injury sustained when from the force of the blast she hit her head on the lever of the escape hatch; and, b. Mr Baitullah Mehsud linked with Al-Qaida was responsible, presenting an intercepted telephone conversation between Mr Mehsud and one Mr Maulvi Sahib in which Mr Mehsud was heard congratulating Mr Maulvi on a job well-done

Un Report Says the Joint Investigation Team was not given access to the crime scene in due time:

166. Once at the scene, the investigators could see that it had been hosed down.

Despite the late hour, they spent seven hours there. They followed the water current, including wading through the drainage sewer and collected evidence from the debris.

They were able to recover one bullet casing from the drainage sewer, later established through forensic examination to have been fired from the pistol bearing the bomber’s DNA. The JIT members left the scene around midnight. The Rawalpindi police provided security for them, and the road was cordoned off during the entire time. The next day, the team returned to continue the search. Upon their request, the scene remained cordoned off and the road closed. They eventually recovered other evidence in the course of their crime scene examination, including the partial skull of the suicide bomber from atop one of the buildings near the site.

The UN Report on The Bomber:

168. The scientific analysis of the suicide bomber’s remains by the Scotland Yard team established that he was a teenage male, no more than 16 years old. According to the JIT’s investigations, this young man was named Bilal also known as Saeed from South Waziristan. This was established through the links that the accused persons admitted having had with the bomber and the ISI telephone intercept of Baitullah Mehsud’s conversation with Maulvi Sahib.

According to the report Ms. Bhutto considered (i) Brigadier (ret) Ejaz Shah, Director General of the IB at the time of the assassination, (ii) General (ret) Hamid Gul, a former Director General of the ISI, and (iii) Mr Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Chief Minister of Punjab until 22 November 2007 to be a threat to her life but these people were not questioned in the investigation. Most of key persons who were in the car with Ms.Bhutto at the time of her death refused to speak to JIT when asked. They however, deny being contacted by the police.

The UN Report’s Statemen on The Sottland Yard Report finding:   

a. although not possible to “categorically…exclude” the possibility of a gunshot wound, the available evidence suggested there was no gunshot wound; b. Ms Bhutto died of a severe head injury caused by impact in the area of the escape hatch lip as a result of the blast; and c. the same individual both fired the shots and detonated the explosives.

That report was not trustworthy for the PPP leadership since they took a lot of the information given to them by the police on ‘good faith’.

The UN Report also says that she had threats from Al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations. She was also under threat they say from the establishment of the time.

Other hypothesis were her family and people close to her wanting her dead however the report states that there are no basis for these allegations.

Part of Important Findings of the UN Report:

iii. Responsibility for Ms Bhutto’s security on the day of her assassination rested with the federal Government, the government of Punjab and the Rawalpindi District Police. None of these entities took necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh and urgent security risks that they knew she faced.

vii. The additional security arrangements of the PPP lacked leadership and were inadequate and poorly executed. The Commission recognizes the heroism of individual PPP supporters, many of whom sacrificed them selves to protect Ms Bhutto. However, Ms Bhutto was left vulnerable in a severely damaged vehicle that was unable to transport her to the hospital by the irresponsible and hasty departure of the bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz which, as the back-up vehicle, was an essential part of her convoy.

xviii. The Commission believes that the failures of the police and other officials to react effectively to Ms Bhutto’s assassination were, in most cases, deliberate. In other cases, the failures were driven by uncertainty in the minds of many officials as to the extent of the involvement of intelligence agencies.

After the Report:

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP “Eight officials have been relieved of their duties while the service contract of a retired brigadier has been terminated. “Their names have been placed on the government’s exit control list. The Pakistan People’s Party has already asked the prime minister to take action against all those involved including Musharraf.”

Even though this seems to have satisfied many people and the government seems to be taking action against people who are mentioned in the report all does not seem to add up. There are many little things that are amiss still. It seems that there are key people in the PPP who need to be questioned and investigated on some decisions they made on that day as well.

The report mentions all of those incidents and persons but puts no blame or responsibility on them. The same is with the government. The police is being questioned for not providing boxed protection however, the Back up Mercedes-Benz sped up ahead leaving the vehicle with Ms. Bhutto behind; who is going to questions those people as to why they did that?

It is one of the common known facts that the police did not allow an autopsy after Ms.Bhutto’s death. However they cannot be held responsible when her husband refused to get it done as well. The situation goes against both parties however only one seem to be questioned.

The people of Pakistan get behind anything that gets them closer to the conclusion of any problem. However, this report brings out more problems and questions than solutions.

No one really knows who is saying what any more and who can be trusted. Everything that is presented to the people of Pakistan is wrapped in lies and confusion and in my opinion this is no different.

12-17

21 Shots … and the Pursuit of Justice: An Imam Dies in Michigan

March 18, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Hamdan Azhar

luqman coroner

DETROIT — It is a cold Sunday afternoon in February and asr prayer is being held at Masjid Al-Haqq. Children run outside, playing in the snow, rambunctious and full of life while their mothers serve the last of the stragglers who have come for a hot meal at the weekly soup kitchen. The neighborhood is typical Detroit, replete with boarded-up houses, the streets quiet and vacant – save for an unassuming two-story red brick house at the corner of Clairmount and Holmur.

Inside the makeshift mosque, a dozen middle-aged African-American men have gathered. As the prayer concludes, a voice calls out, “Read a hadith, that’s what the Imam used to do.” The prayer leader dutifully opens a book of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and starts reading.” (s) There will come forth a people on the Day of Judgment, their faces shining like the sun.” He pauses for effect. “The poor, the immigrants, the disheveled ones.”

The man’s words resonate with the audience. They begin to look at one another, as if by taking in their appearance they are acknowledging the precarious state of their community. And slowly they begin to nod. “That could be any one of us,” says one man. He thinks for a moment, before adding, “That could be all of us.”
Four months have passed since the death of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah. But among his community, his legacy lives on. The soup kitchen he initiated continues to serve the homeless and hungry by the dozens on a weekly basis. Among his followers, there is an odd sense of acceptance.

“Even after this tragedy,” says Abdul-Aleem, 55, “our doors are open to all.” “We know that Allah is in control and justice will prevail.” There is an uncertain gleam in his eye, and he quickly turns away as I meet his gaze – for justice has too often been an elusive concept in this part of the hood.

The Homicide

The passage of time has seen an evolution in the narrative of what happened in that Dearborn warehouse in which Luqman Abdullah met his end. Initially, the US Attorney’s office claimed that there had been an “exchange of gun fire” after Mr. Abdullah fired an initial shot – the term “exchange” presupposing that both sides were engaged in shooting.

Yet the Associated Press quoted an FBI spokesperson as saying that the Imam “fired a weapon and was killed by gunfire from agents” – which indicates that Mr. Abdullah fired only one shot. Seizing on the confusion, the media offered widely divergent portrayals of the incident, the majority describing it as a “gun battle” or a “shootout”, with a minority left wondering if he might have been gunned down in cold blood.

In addition to the shooting angle, there was another twist – the dog. The FBI was quick to announce a memorial service for Freddy, the Belgian Malinois who “lost his life in the line of duty,” the day after the incident. While according to the FBI, Freddy “gave his life for his team,” the US Attorney’s press release is more cautious in noting that “an FBI canine was also killed during the exchange.”

The common perception – although never officially confirmed – was that Mr. Abdullah fired at the dog thereby prompting agents to return fire at him. Sympathetic observers asked if the life of a dog was equal to the life of a human being. Further complicating public perception was the fact that the dog was airlifted to a hospital for emergency medical care while Mr. Abdullah’s handcuffed corpse was transported by ambulance to the coroner’s office.

Today there remain more questions than answers in the death of Luqman Abdullah. The autopsy report, kept under seal for three months at the request of the Dearborn Police Department, was finally released on Feb. 1. The report documents that Mr. Abdullah was shot 21 times, including multiple times in the genitals and at least once in the back. Numerous abrasions and lacerations were also found on his face, hands, and arms; his jaw was found to be fractured.

The discovery of Mr. Abdullah’s additional injuries has sparked a new wave of criticism. In a recent interview, Omar Regan, a son of Mr. Abdullah, became emotional as he decried how his father has been inhumanely “mauled” by the dog. The Michigan Citizen quotes Wayne County Chief Medical Examiner Carl Schmidt as conceding that the injuries could have come from dog bites but he refuses to offer a conclusive determination.

Independent forensic pathologists whom we contacted were unable to comment on the matter without seeing pictures. Incidentally, Mr. Abdullah’s family as well as watchdog organizations have encountered numerous obstacles in obtaining the release of the autopsy photographs – a bureaucratic struggle which is ongoing at the moment.

Prior to the release of the autopsy, it had been assumed that Mr. Abdullah shot the dog as it was on its way to attack him. If, however, one accepts the premise that the dog actually attacked Mr. Abdullah, would that not imply that he had been successfully subdued? Did he then shoot the dog at point-blank range while being attacked? Did the FBI agents shoot him 21 times – not while he was pointing a gun at them – but while he was wrestling with the dog?

Some have even questioned if Mr. Abdullah was the one who shot the dog. Ron Scott of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality told the local NBC affiliate that the FBI’s irresponsible conduct was to blame for the death of the dog. Huel Perkins, news anchor at Fox 2 Detroit, went one step further. “With so many bullets flying,” he wondered, “they could have been ricocheting and FBI bullets might have killed that dog.”

The Investigation

(Masjid Al-Haqq, 4019 Clairmount Street, Detroit, MI)

Masjid Haqq-Detroit Immediately after the killing, the FBI dispatched a Shooting Incident Review Team to conduct an internal investigation into the incident (as is standard whenever agents are involved in a shooting.) Meanwhile, the Dearborn Police Department launched a criminal investigation into the homicide. Chief Ronald Haddad recently told the Dearborn Press and Guide that his office would submit a final report to the Michigan Attorney General within weeks.

Demands for an independent investigation had been growing since November, having been echoed by Detroit Mayor David Bing, the Detroit Free Press, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. In January, Congressman John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, lent his support to the effort calling on the Justice Department to conduct a “rigorous” and “transparent” investigation.

In addition, he asked the Civil Rights Division to review the use of confidential informants in houses of worship – a practice that played a critical role in the FBI’s investigation of Mr. Abdullah. A spokesman for the Judiciary Committee said that, as of two weeks ago, no response had been received to the request. Meanwhile, the Civil Rights division has announced plans to conduct their own investigation into the shooting.

When the story first broke in late October, it was presented in the context of religiously motivated terrorism. As we have previously discussed, the bulk of the 45-page affidavit issued on Oct. 28 consists of a “background” section that implicates Mr. Abdullah and ten other defendants in a sensational plot to violently overthrow the government.

However, the actual crimes alleged are more commonplace: possession of firearms and body armor by a convicted felon, providing firearms to a convicted felon, tampering with motor vehicle identification numbers, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and conspiracy to sell or receive stolen goods. When we met last November, Omar Regan expressed frustration with the media’s coverage. “They just want to say Muslims are terrorists,” he said.

Indeed, many have used the tenuous “Islamic terrorism” connection to attack the character of the late Mr. Abdullah, with some going so far as to implicate aspects of the Islamic faith by extension. The FBI affidavit set the stage for such behavior by referring to a “nationwide radical fundamentalist Sunni group” and by going to great lengths to emphasize Mr. Abdullah’s religious beliefs. On Nov. 18, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies -a controversial neoconservative think-tank – published an article comparing Mr. Abdullah’s followers to global “jihadi movements.” Other right-wing ideologues with dubious credentials have also used the case as evidence of the threat of “homegrown terrorism.”

The grand jury indictment (included below) issued on Nov. 10 presents a striking contrast with the earlier criminal complaint. The complaint is what the FBI presented to a federal magistrate judge; after a finding of probable cause, arrest warrants were then issued. The indictment is what the grand jury, upon weighing the evidence, actually accuses the defendants of, and what they will be tried for in court. The 11-page document makes no mention of Islam, or religion in general, nor does it discuss terrorism or hint at anything remotely violent, save for possession of firearms. Needless to say, Luqman Abdullah has been dropped from the list of defendants.

The indictment provides further evidence of the banal and artificial nature of the investigation. The “stolen goods” the defendants are alleged to have conspired to sell or receive consist of fur coats, laptops, iPhones, Burberry purses, and 40” LCD televisions. The payments involved range in value from $300 to $1000. A plain reading of the document suggests that an FBI operative (an agent or a confidential informant) gave the defendants money that they then used to purchase goods (that they believed to be stolen) from another FBI operative which they then stored in an FBI-operated warehouse. On Oct. 28, as per the indictment, the defendants arrived at the FBI warehouse to take possession of FBI owned goods that the FBI had paid them to purchase, at which point the warehouse was raided by the FBI and they were arrested. One of them, Imam Luqman Abdullah, was killed.

Two days after the killing, Andrew Arena, special agent in charge of the Detroit division of the FBI, was quoted in the New York Times as saying that the agents “did what they had to do to protect themselves.” In those early days, the headlines in the news were “Radical Islam leader killed” and “Feds stand behind deadly Michigan raid.”

By February of this year, however, the headlines had changed to “Autopsy Shows Michigan Imam Shot 21 Times” and “Conyers Demands Rigorous Investigation of Imam Shooting.” The favorable turn in media coverage provides little consolation for Mr. Abdullah’s family, however. “The media is interested in hype,” complains Mr. Regan. “They’re using this to sell papers and for TV ratings.”

The growing mainstream consensus demanding an independent investigation has clearly been an unexpected and significant development in the case. Whereas once there were only a handful of voices willing to question the FBI’s account, a veritable group has assembled to demand transparency and accountability – including the House Judiciary Committee, the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, the Detroit Free Press, the Mayor of Detroit, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

When we met in November, Mr. Regan exclaimed at one point during our interview, “A man’s been killed, and he hasn’t been charged with a crime.” That statement stuck with me for many months. It conveys a certain raw emotion, eliciting an impassioned but entirely rational response of outrage at a fundamental injustice that seems to have been done. Luqman Abdullah is no longer here to defend himself against the charges that have been thrown at him by the government and the media – he never got his day in court. Is that not a miscarriage of justice?

Having some doubts about the legal and factual accuracy of the latter part of Mr. Regan’s statement, I contacted experts for clarification. Many were doubtful of the extent to which the question even mattered – whether or not Mr. Abdullah had in fact been charged with a crime when he was killed.

Constitutional scholar and UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh argued that the relevant question instead was whether the killing was justified given the exigencies of that situation. The killing of an innocent man by the police might be justified in self-defense. On the other hand, even if someone had been indicted, the use of deadly force absent proper justification would be inappropriate.

The question thus returns to the actual homicide (the term the medical examiner has used to describe the manner of death in the autopsy.) Were the FBI agents acting in fear for their lives? Or was the use of deadly force excessive given the threat they faced? A conclusive determination is impossible without all of the facts – facts that one hopes the investigation will uncover. Given the information that has been released thus far and the manner in which it has been received however, it would seem that the weight of public perception is against the FBI’s account.

In all likelihood, the warehouse in which the shooting occurred was controlled by the FBI, as the text of the indictment strongly implies (paragraph 22, “Overt Acts”). If Mr. Abdullah was in fact attacked by the dog, as the abnormal injuries to his body seem to indicate, how could he have posed an imminent threat to the FBI agents – sufficient to justify 21 gunshots? Why were more than half of the shots below the waist–including two in the groin and one in the back? Why was no effort made to provide emergency medical attention to Mr. Abdullah?

The attempts to convict Mr. Abdullah in the court of public opinion have largely been based – not on his conduct in his final moments – but on the government’s allegations of prior criminal behavior. The unspoken justification is not that he presented an imminent threat to the agents but that he was a dangerous person who needed to be “brought to justice.”

FBI Agent Andrew Arena, speaking with NBC affiliate WDIV-TV, concedes that “what transpired that day…was a tragic event.” He proceeds to affirm that they “wanted to make sure that no innocent people were harmed, that no agents were harmed, and no subjects were harmed.”

His choice of words, however, unwittingly speaks to his presuppositions. Rather than use the term “bystanders”, he instead declares that Mr. Abdullah was not an innocent person whose harm should be avoided, but rather a threat to be neutralized.

“A man is dead and he hasn’t been charged with a crime,” said Mr. Regan. A subtle but profound distinction must be made between “charged” and “convicted.” Even if Mr. Abdullah had been convicted of – intent to receive stolen goods among other crimes – a justification for his killing can only be derived from exigencies of that situation in the warehouse. After all, a class C felony carries a maximum sentence of twenty-five years in prison – not death.

But the fact remains that he wasn’t convicted – of that crime or any other crimes. Save for a felony assault conviction in 1981 – when he would have been 24 years old – by all available accounts, Luqman Abdullah had lived as a “good neighbor”, in the words of the lieutenant at the local police precinct. He was known for his devotion to social justice and serving the needs of the poor and needy community in which he lived. He earned his living as a cabdriver and led prayers at his local religious center. Far from the FBI’s portrayal of a violent thug, those who knew him point to his positive influence at eliminating crime and combating poverty in a neighborhood that government had all but forgotten.

The greatest injustice of Luqman Abdullah’s killing stems from the perception that in those final moments, it was a handful of FBI agents who acted as judge, jury, and executioner. Their actions determined that Mr. Abdullah would die as guilty, if for no other reason than his inability to furthermore proclaim his innocence. The vital public debate about government-sponsored espionage in religious institutions and the prevalence of entrapment as a law enforcement tool in poor and underprivileged communities will continue. But we have lost an invaluable informant whose perspective can only be guessed at and never apprehended in full.

The FBI complaint is the only documentation in the public record of the criminal activities that allegedly occurred at the direction of Luqman Abdullah over the past two years. It presents only one side of the story – a side that can no longer be challenged. Some media organizations have disturbingly accepted that one side as the definitive account, thereby corrupting the notion of “innocent until proven guilty.” If the presumption of innocence applies up until the point of conviction, how much more applicable should it be if the accused had yet to be charged with a crime?

Among the legal scholars we contacted, a few were of the opinion that the criminal complaint presented to the magistrate judge was the functional equivalent of a charging document. They asserted that the question was really more of semantics than of law – what do we really mean when we say “charged with a crime”?
Others offered a more definite assessment. “He was not charged with a crime,” said Yale Professor and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Stith. “So as not to mislead,” she continued, “I would say ‘He had not been formally charged with a crime, though a warrant had been issued for his arrest.’”

Professor Eve Brensike Primus of the University of Michigan offered a constitutional rationale for a strict interpretation of “formal charges.” “The Fifth Amendment,” she argued, “ensures that a federal charge for a felony offense will not be brought without granting the accused the protection of the review and acceptance of the charge by the grand jury.”

Harvard Professor Carol Steiker agreed. “An indictment is the required formal charging document in federal court for all non-petty crimes (felonies),” she said. “In such cases, it would be most accurate to say that an individual killed prior to indictment was killed before he was formally charged with a crime.”

The Community

Muslim kids Masjid Haqq (Fatima, 3, Sumayya, 10, and Juma, 8 on a Sunday afternoon in February at the weekly Masjid Al-Haqq soup kitchen)

Twenty-one shots. Left to die while an FBI dog was transported by helicopter for medical treatment. Portrayed as a radical Muslim, a violent black man, a threat to the community. Killed before he could be charged with a crime.

Is this the face of justice in America, I ask myself. Not my America, I retort, not the America of Ann Arbor, Michigan with its ivory towers, nor the America of Brooklyn, New York where I grew up, the child of Pakistani immigrants, benefiting from the best public schools, taught to keep an open mind, to ask questions, to always think critically.

I look around at the deserted streets and the abandoned houses, my senses overwhelmed by the crushing poverty of inner-city Detroit – and I realize that I am no longer in my America. I keep walking, comfortable by now in this neighborhood, no longer anxious about my car being broken into. The death of Luqman Abdullah has given me a reason to leave my comforts and visit another world, to talk to its residents and to listen to their stories.

I see a young man, slightly younger than me, waiting for the bus on Dexter Ave. I ask him what has by now become my routine query. Yes, he answers, he knew Imam Luqman. “He used to give out food if someone was hungry,” he tells me. But Khari, 20, shocks me when he says, “I hope they lock them up in jail.” “They shot him 21 times.” I walk away in awe wondering if this, perhaps, is what they call the optimism of youth.

I walk back to Masjid Al-Haqq, enter from the backdoor, and climb the narrow, aging stairway that leads to the men’s prayer room. The sweet smell of incense reaches me as I behold the sight of half a dozen children running around, their fathers relaxing and catching up on gossip. I spot Omar Regan and his brother Mujahid Carswell in the corner and I head in their direction. I am intercepted by a bold and charming 8-year old, Khalid, who wants a rematch in rock-paper- scissors (in which I had soundly defeated him earlier that afternoon). I pause for a quick game, letting him win, and walk away leaving him content with his victory.

I have not seen the brothers since November, and they are as impassioned as ever regarding their father’s death. “It was worse than we thought,” says Mr. Regan, referring to the autopsy. “Nobody deserves this.” They are frustrated by the government’s secrecy and failure to release relevant documentation. Where is the ballistics report, he asks. “Where is the proof that my father even fired a gun?” He wants to see the autopsy report of the dog and wonders why EMTs were not on scene during the take-down. “What if an officer had gotten hurt? Isn’t that standard procedure?” Many of these same questions are increasingly being asked by other parties as well, most notably by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers.

“People are rightly concerned when a religious leader becomes involved with an FBI informant and ends up dead in the street,” said Rep. Conyers in a press release. He went on to note that if the Department of Justice failed to investigate the incident in a “credible and transparent” manner, “it will be left to Congress to ensure that justice is done.” Such high-level involvement in a routine law enforcement operation indicates the killing of Imam Luqman Abdullah is anything but routine – it might even be exceptional.

Mr. Carswell is satisfied with the amount of national attention the case has received, but he is not surprised. “They thought no one would care. But they underestimated how much people loved this black man. He was a servant of the people.” ‘They’ for Mr. Carswell is the FBI, and he is unrelenting in his criticism. “Nobody’s policing the FBI,” he complains. “Why did they call him armed and dangerous? Why did they call him a radical Sunni Muslim? If the charge is intent to receive stolen goods, why are you saying this?”

“It’s a control thing,” he asserts. “They’re bullies, they rule by fear.” He cites the FBI’s attempts to influence media coverage of the case. Indeed, the Feb. 9 article “Metro security breach leaves many on edge” bizarrely notes that “The FBI’s Detroit office refused to discuss the case with the Free Press on Monday, citing its unhappiness over a recent newspaper editorial.” (Numerous attempts to contact the FBI for comment were unsuccessful.) “People are afraid to ask questions, even the media is intimidated,” he says.

Despite the obstacles, Mr. Carswell depicts a reality in which even the FBI has been left isolated. “They’re the only ones telling that story,” he says. “His family, people in the streets, strangers, even the police – they have nothing but good to say of him. The only ones with a different story are the FBI. It don’t take no genius to figure out that somebody’s lying.” Mr. Carswell looks me in the eye – “How is everybody telling the same lie?”

For the family, much of the government’s case turns on the credibility of one informant, a topic on which the Detroit Free Press has reported extensively. Mr. Regan is skeptical. “Why is it his word against everyone else? Who is he? What are his credentials? What makes him reliable?” Mr. Regan even suggests that the informant might have “played” the FBI, selling them an exaggerated narrative of a dangerous conspiracy for his own personal gain. Such stories have become common in recent years; informants in similar cases have often been career criminals, at times drug addicts, seeking reduced prison sentences or financial compensation.

“It’s inhumane,” says Mr. Regan, returning to the manner of the killing. “You don’t have a reason to shoot someone 21 times. These are trained marksmen. Shooting below the waist. Twice in the private parts. By federal agents. Do they have families, children, and wives?”

I ask the brothers why they think the FBI agents shot and killed their father. Could it have been fear? Mr. Regan briefly entertains the notion. “Perhaps,” he says, “the informant hyped up the FBI. All lies. They went in thinking they were fighting for their country. And then they found out he wasn’t it.” His eyes flare up. “Oops. 13 children. A wife. An entire community in mourning. Why can’t they just say they were wrong?”

Mr. Carswell is less receptive to the suggestion that the agents were afraid for their lives and that’s why they shot him 21 times. “This is what they do for a living. How are they so afraid? Are you new? Are you a rookie? Just wait in the car.” More than “afraid federal agents,” he responds, “what we hear about most often are rogue cops abusing their power.”

At the end of the day, Mr. Abdullah’s family is anxious for answers. “They say: your father was a bad guy, that’s why we killed him, that’s why we shot him 21 times.” Mr. Regan’s eyes glisten and his voice falters. “It’s not fair; it feels like they targeted him because he’s Muslim. Because he was Muslim, they can say he was a terrorist…But the most they could charge him with was receiving stolen goods.” “Tell the truth,” he says. “You’re acting like cold-blooded killers. How can I believe that you’re here to serve the community?”

While the family waits for the investigation to conclude, they pray for justice. As I leave, Mr. Regan’s voice assumes a tone of certainty. “Eventually,” he tells me, “the truth will come out.” On my drive back to my America, I think of the man killed without having ever been charged with a crime and left for dead in a warehouse; of the house of worship infiltrated by federal agents funded by our tax dollars; of how little our government seems to be doing for the people of inner-city Detroit. I wonder what has become of my America – and I can only hope that Mr. Regan’s confidence will not prove to have been in vain.

Hamdan Azhar is a graduate student in biostatistics at the University of Michigan. An accomplished writer on international affairs, his works have been published in the Huffington Post, Counterpunch, and the Asia Times.

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Trapped by Indifference

April 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

 

feral cats eat fishHis eyes glaze over as his head droops in defeat. His hair is a dingy shade of blonde. His plaintive wail can be heard all night, up until dawn when an eerie silence fills the air. He lays against a wall, slumped in such a way that it is difficult to see if he is alive or dead. His only crime was curiosity. He is a stray dog who made the mistake of climbing onto the roof of an abandoned building in Kuwait. Now he is stuck there, with little to no hope of rescue.

Unlike in the West, domestic animals like cats and dogs are not man’s best friend. In fact, they are considered to be filthy creatures often likened to cockroaches as carriers of disease. Cats, in particular, are as prevalent on the streets of Kuwait as squirrels are in rural America. They dig out their daily meals from dumpsters, sneak a snooze on the roof of a car and spend their days searching for small puddles of water to quench their thirst in the unforgiving desert where temperatures often well exceed 100 F.

It has only been within the past couple of years that stray dogs have made their presence known on the streets. More and more misguided travelers bring a dog home with them after trips abroad to Europe or the USA. Once back in Kuwait, reality sets in as pet supplies are not always plentiful and walking a dog in the desert heat several times a day is not always a welcome activity. It’s unfortunate that, for many, the best option is to simply open up the front door and let the dog run away to live a life of fending for itself on the harsh streets.

And the streets are brutal. There is a general lack of empathy for animals in Kuwait, which is surprising given that it is an Islamic nation. The Holy Quran gave rights to both man and beast centuries ago. It’s not uncommon to find children torturing a defenseless animal in a vacant lot and reports of building caretakers throwing stray cats from the rooftops down to their deaths is a too often reported crime appearing in the local newspapers.

Thankfully, there are some loving souls that have chosen to give animals the rights that they deserve. Even in the case of the dog trapped on the roof, several local residents have thrown food up to him and some have scaled a wall below the roof in an attempt to reach him. Unfortunately, the dog backs away. He fears humans as probably every experience he has ever had has taught him to do.

There are two primary animal relief agencies in Kuwait. PAWS and Animal Friends League of Kuwait are fighting an uphill battle as the unwanted pet population in Kuwait continues its upward spiral. Both organizations are active in the community, providing food and shelter for unwanted animals. And both have hotlines where members from the public can call in to report a stray animal or animal abuse.

As of press time, the stray dog on the roof remains stranded. But help is hopefully on the way, thanks to the animal relief agencies in Kuwait who have recently been contacted. While there is light at the end of the tunnel for this dog, scores of other animals will most likely have bleaker futures in Kuwait as the indifference to their suffering goes on.

Update:  Animal Friends came and one of their volunteers scaled the wall and grabbed the dog.

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The Bachelor City

December 11, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan- MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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The phrase ‘hired help’ takes on an extreme meaning in the Gulf with just about everyone, who is anyone, employing a bevy of service workers to fulfill their every whim. The majority of the workers are males hailing from Southeast Asia who leave their homelands in the hope for a better life in the oil rich region where they earn a meager living, which they send back to their families. They are garbage collectors, office tea boys, stockists, chauffeurs, janitors and are basically ‘jack-of-all-trades’ in every sense. They do the work that no one else wants to do and keep the Gulf nations running smoothly. Without this source of cheap labor, the current construction and economic boom in the region would come to a screeching halt.

However, the side effect of importing laborers from other nations is that there is an abundance of bachelors residing in residential areas, which often causes problems for families and the community as a whole. Nowhere is this more evident than in the State of Kuwait. According to recent research conducted in the tiny Gulf nation, bachelors are responsible for the bulk of crime in the country with theft and sexual assault topping the list of transgressions. It comes as no surprise that the so-called bachelors have turned to crime when they have limited opportunities in Kuwait, zero chance of promotion in their menial jobs and are lucky if they are paid their salary on time or at all. Some have no choice but to dig through the garbage to earn money from recyclables as their ‘payday’ is unreliable.

The issue of the bachelors has long been a sticking point in the Kuwaiti Parliament with MP’s from every district highlighting citizen complaints about the bachelor’s crimes and presence on the streets into all hours of the night. This past week the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MSAL) announced plans to construct a ‘bachelor city’ to house the ever-growing number of unattached men in the country. The first complex will be built in Sabhan city. It will cover 60,000 square meters and accommodate an estimated 3,000 laborers. The second complex, still in the planning stage, will cover 1000 square meters and house an estimated 9,000 workers. Both complexes will contain entertainment facilities and basic service businesses, like mini-grocery stores and barber shops. The governmental aim is to relocate all bachelors from the residential areas of Kuwait into their very own city to limit the opportunities for crime and to appease residents.

However, it remains to be seen if the idea will be a success or a failure with many bachelors up in arms for being forced to leave the only homes they have known since they landed in Kuwait. Many are law-abiding citizens whose only crime is that they are labeled as menaces to society simply because of the actions of other bachelors. The bachelors will be bused to and from their places of work in every city of Kuwait each day and return to their own city at night.

When asked about the plan for the bachelor’s city, Muhammad Amin, who is a Pakistani bachelor and day laborer said, “I think it is wrong to blame all bachelors for the problems of the country. The finger-pointing should be directed to the recruiting agencies who hire us from abroad. Moving us all to one city is not going to solve any problems and will cause anger amongst us for being kept away from society as if we are lepers.”

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