June 16, 2012
It wasn’t long after he met the man called Shareef that Khalifa Al-Akili began to sense he was being set up. Within days of their seemingly chance meeting, Shareef was offering to drive Akili, a 34-year-old Muslim living in East Liberty, Pennsylvania, to the local mosque for prayers. Shareef told Akili he was “all about fighting” and “had a lot of resources at his disposal.” But when Shareef began to probe Akili about his views on jihad and asked him if he could obtain a gun, Akili grew nervous. “I begin to try to avoid him, but would still see him due to the fact that he lived two minutes’ walking distance from my apartment,” Akili said later. In January of this year, Shareef showed up with a “brother” who called himself Mohammed and was keen to meet Akili. Mohammed told Akili that he was a businessman from Pakistan involved in jihad. “He kept attempting to talk about the fighting going on in Afghanistan, which I clearly felt was an attempt to get me to talk about my views,” Akili recalled. “I had a feeling that I had just played out a part in some Hollywood movie where I had just been introduced to the leader of a terrorist sleeper cell.”
Out of curiosity, Akili did an Internet search on the cellphone number he’d received from Mohammed. Much to his surprise, he discovered that the man was, in fact, an FBI informant named Shahed Hussain, who had played a pivotal role in at least two major terrorism-related sting operations in recent years. In a lengthy posting on his Facebook page recounting these events, Akili wrote, “I would like to pursue a legal action against the FBI due to their continuous harassment.” He also set up a press conference in Washington with Muslim civil liberties groups to publicize his fear that he was being entrapped. But it was too late. In mid-March, Akili was arrested and charged with being in possession of a .22-caliber rifle at a shooting range several years earlier, an act deemed illegal because of a decade-old drug conviction. Though his arrest was on nonterrorism-related charges, at his bond hearing FBI agents and US Attorneys told the judge they’d seen unspecified “jihadist literature” at his apartment and also alleged that he’d told one of the informants of his desire to go to Pakistan and join the Taliban. The judge ordered Akili held without bail.