By D. Hsu
A month ago, federal authorities arrested Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis for trying to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank of New York with what he thought was 1,000 pounds of explosives. Luckily for New York City denizens, the bomb was actually a dud prepared by federal authorities and the NYPD, given to Nafis in an undercover anti-terrorism investigation.
Reports have described Nafis more as a bumbling paper tiger than a terrorist mastermind. The ambitious 21-year-old Bangledeshi man came to the U.S. on a student visa with the sole purpose of waging jihad, but soon caught the FBI’s attention when he unwittingly approached an FBI informant to be his accomplice. As the FBI tracked Nafis in the months that followed, it became clear that Nafis lacked both the resources and wit required to carry out a terrorist attack. Although Nafis supported Al Qaeda ideology, he had no real connection to the organization whatsoever. One can only wonder if Nafis’ ambitions would have ever amounted to a threatening act if the government had not interfered.
Defense attorneys have often accused the federal government of entrapping would-be terrorists. They argue that the government persuades perpetrators to commit terrorist attacks rather than finding the perpetrators ready and willing to commit them. If the allegations against Nafis are true—that he came to the U.S. solely to wage jihad and he actively sought out accomplices—he was indeed found ready and willing and was not entrapped. However, statistics suggest that Nafis would not be in any better a position if the facts were any grayer. 100% of the jihadist terrorism cases involving an undercover agent that have gone to trial since 9/11 have resulted in either a guilty plea or conviction—notably greater than the 77% rate of guilty pleas or convictions for non-jihadist terrorism cases. Then there is still the looming question of whether the great lengths that the government has taken to arrest jihadist paper tigers like Nafis look more like witch hunts than safety measures.
The American public has been understandably sensitive to jihadist terrorism plots since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This public sentiment could very well be affecting criminal investigations and judicial outcomes, compromising the legal system and its pursuit of justice when handling jihadist terrorist suspects. In pop culture media, we often rally for justice to prevail over public sentiment. In To Kill a Mockingbird, we beg the white jury of the 1930s Deep South to set an obviously innocent Black man free. In HBO’s John Adams miniseries, we attribute great virtues to our second President for defying angry Colonial mobs and defending the much reviled—and innocent—British soldiers in court. The examples in our literature, music, and movies are abundant. But could we make that same rally cry for justice in present situations that are much more personal to us? Could we ever sympathize with a jihadist terrorist suspect like Nafis? And if justice truly called for it, could we ever let a jihadist terrorist suspect go free?