Seattle-based law student Malak Shalabi details what she calls her traumatising experience in 2018 with a spy, U.S government surveillance and attempted entrapment.
In 2018 I connected with a former classmate of mine on Facebook. We had taken a class in 2016 taught by a former FBI agent who trashed Islam constantly. I was surprised to learn my classmate, who I shall call “X”, was a convert so I offered to teach him Arabic, as I had taught youth and converts at the time.
Our first session in October 2018 was ordinary, and a friend of mine (who I shall call “Y”) joined us and I taught Y the first few letters of the Arabic alphabet. But when we walked out to the parking lot, he pointed out that he had recently gotten into an accident and the front of his car was busted (you will realise the significance of this later).
In December 2018 we met again and my friend Y was unable to join us so we were alone. X started speaking in a way I have never heard Muslims ordinarily speak – he was inflammatory and made simpleton statements on complex issues like jihad, hijrah, kuffar, and democracy as shirk.
He tried to corner me into answering absolutist questions, and brought up “sheikhs” who I knew were blacklisted, assassinated and exiled for their affiliations with terrorism. He knew my background as a student of international affairs and an activist and tried to pin me down on those points.
I left the meeting with a very eerie and creepy feeling, and I swore I would never see him again. He sent me content and websites that are known for terrorism propaganda and I know these sites are tracked. And he sent me videos of a Jamaican Imam who was exiled for pledging allegiance to ISIS.
In January 2019 I told him I would not be able to complete teaching him Arabic. He said that’s fine as he had sorted out his passport issues and would be leaving the country to “fight.” He said he was going to Afghanistan and asked if I had connections in Palestine.
I immediately told him he was severely misconstruing the scripture of Islam to fit his desires, and that he had to seek professional help. My friend, Y, and I referred him to a mosque where the Imam is both a psychologist and learned scholar of Islam.
We agreed to meet on Friday at the mosque and then rescheduled to Sunday because my car had broken down. On Friday January 25 2019, Y and I had done a fundraiser for Syrian refugees. After cleaning up and coming home around 1am, Y called me crying with her brother on the line.
She told me: “X ran his car into a police station. He hit a cop car and ran toward them with a knife yelling the shahada, saying he was going to kill them. He’s in jail now. He’s in jail, he’s in jail, he’s in jail. They’re going to get us because we know him. His life is over.”
My friend Y and I fell asleep that night, and many other nights after that, hyperventilating, crying, plagued with guilt, fear and paranoia as to what would happen to us and our families. Wishing we could have done something. Wishing I never met him. Wishing this never happened.
We expected the FBI to knock on our door the next morning and I immediately started scheduling appointments with attorneys. The first attorney we met with was immediately sceptical of the situation. And it turned out that X got out on 100k bail within a few days.
I started doing more research and found his LinkedIn that listed his current employer as a “security agency under a government administration.” He started working there just when we finished our class with the former FBI teacher in 2017.
I did more digging, and found an eBook that mentioned his specific security agency by name and locality as part of an anti-terrorist network model that gathers and shares “threat information” by sending out insurgents into the Muslim community to spy on and entrap men and women.
I also then realised that the news picture of his car after ramming into the cop car looked just like his car when I first saw it in the lot. So this easily could have been a staged crime photo since his car was already busted, and the cop car showed no damage.
I found similar cases online to this one – one where an insurgent was paid to stage ramming a cop car. Entrapment is the practice of law enforcement or insurgents/spies staging crimes to rope in some level of “material support,” which can include words of support alone.
Once he was out jail, X began texting me and adding me to groups asking me for words of support. He asked for advice and guidance and support as he was “going through a rough time.” I told him to stop messaging me and he tried to incite me by calling me a hypocrite and heretic.
Y and I started to be watched, harassed and followed. Y had a “_ County Security” van that would park in front of her house. A woman with a laptop would snap pictures when anyone would enter or leave the house. I had tinted cars with no tabs parked outside my house.
Y was watched by another car and an anonymous person at the mosque. Y saw X’s brother at the gym and then was followed by his friend in the night. He followed her on a dark road until she called the police, and they arrested him after he admitted to following her.
My mom received text messages mentioning the mosque that X and I attended, asking for my address. I received calls all day, I heard the click of being recorded and after I’d say a few words the line would cut. When I’d call back the number it would be disconnected. Every time.
Y and I were then continuously contacted and approached by people who turned out to be related to X or sent by X, until she and I permanently left that space. We also received information that X’s friend had a “side hustle” from spying on the mosque he attended.
I am writing this because today I refuse to be scared and paranoid. I was terrified to speak out and only my close friends know this story. But it is my duty to share this story if it can help even one soul, or one person searching “entrapment” or “staged crime” on Twitter.
I now understand my story to be part of a systemic issue of discriminatory surveillance and targeting of the Muslim community. I hope someone, and anyone can learn from my experience.
5Pillars sourced Malak Shalabi’s story from her Twitter feed and has altered grammatical aspects of it for readability alone. We could not verify her story but similar experiences have been well documented by American Muslims. For more information you could read the book Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism.