Did the NYPD Entrap Ahmed Ferhani?
In 2009, Ilter met a young Palestinian man I’ll refer to as W, who agreed to speak on the condition that The Nation not publish his name. W and Ilter met at a pro-Palestinian rally; when W suggested getting drinks afterward, Ilter offered to treat.
At the beginning, Ilter “played it real smooth,” W said. But after a few months, he started bringing up religion and politics a lot. “He asked me if I would participate in the international defense of our Muslim brothers and sisters,” W said, sitting in a McDonald’s in Queens and regularly looking over his shoulder because he suspects he may be under police surveillance. At one point, Ilter talked about going to a gun show in Las Vegas, saying he could pay for it. “He showed me pictures of the gun show, and he’d try to lure people in with gifts and stuff like that.”
One of the last times W saw Ilter, the latter brought up Israel and accused W of going soft. “He tried to get [me] involved in assassinating the prime minister of Israel,” W said, laughing incredulously. “Crazy stuff.”
Well before Ahmed was arrested trying to purchase the guns and grenade, he had been picked up for a parole violation. Ahmed said—and Deek confirmed—that undercover officers visited a friend of his before he was released on the violation, asking whether or not Ahmed might be interested in political crimes of terrorism.
According to W, he and Ahmed had met in 2006, went their separate ways, and then started hanging out again by early 2010. W introduced Ilter to Ahmed, a decision he says he’s “regretted ever since.”
The three of them hung out quite a bit, sometimes at a makeshift music studio in Astoria, Queens. At one point they discussed selling T-shirts to raise money “for Gaza,” according to W. Ahmed, who was also attempting to get a jewelry business off the ground, was going to design the shirts. He had previously been a salesman at Saks Fifth Avenue.
“There were times when he, Ilter, would instigate animosity toward not only Zionists, but all Jews,” W said. (W didn’t recall any kind of anti-Semitism from Ahmed when they first met in 2006.) Ilter would also bring up various outlandish schemes.
Of these, Ahmed seemed most interested in ones that would turn a profit. He was particularly intrigued by the possibility of exporting cars to be sold on the black market. Sitting at a bright green plastic table in the West Facility of Rikers Island, Ahmed described how Ilter told him they could sell a Dodge Nitro in Turkey—where Ilter claimed to be from—for $90,000 or more. The two of them had already talked about buying and selling guns, but upon hearing about the truck scheme, Ahmed said he asked Ilter, “So why are we messin’ with the guns then?” According to Ahmed, Ilter said the gun sale would just be to tide them over until the truck scheme could get under way.
Ahmed says he should have known better than to go through with the gun purchase. He had a nagging feeling something wasn’t right with Ilter, but he didn’t act on it. One time, the two of them went to Ilter’s apartment, which was almost totally empty but had a security system. “I’m like, ‘Why you got a security system?’” Ahmed said. “‘You don’t got anything.’”
Ilter also pressed Ahmed repeatedly to attend pro-Palestinian rallies, so much so that at one point Ahmed remembers yelling at him to shut up about the protests already. Dima, the Al-Awda activist, suspects that if Ilter had succeeded in connecting Ahmed to the groups involved, “it would have given the NYPD and the government the opportunity to criminalize the organizations, all of their members, and even community folks who have attended rallies.”
In the weeks leading up to the arrest, W said that things were getting “fishy” and that he barely heard from Ahmed or Ilter. According to the indictment, from April 12 to the time of the arrest, Ahmed, Mohamed Mamdouh and Ilter were discussing bombing synagogues, including a plan to “dress up as a Jewish worshipper.”
But the transcripts of their conversations, not previously disclosed, paint a more complicated picture.
On April 30, eleven days before the arrest, Ilter offered to drive Ahmed to the hospital for a doctor’s appointment. Toward the end of the conversation, Ilter brought up a large synagogue he’d recently passed on Fifth Avenue. But Ahmed was more focused on the reason for his doctor’s visit: the bumps on the back of his head and arm that he was increasingly worried about. Ilter tried a couple more times to interest him, describing how big the synagogue was, to which Ahmed responded distractedly: “yeah” and “alright man, no doubt.” They also discussed selling drugs and buying guns.
On May 3, eight days before the arrest, Ahmed admitted that he was contemplating flipping all the guns. “I been thinking about it, maybe we just gonna sell the fucking guns,” he said, telling Ilter, “people willing to pay a lot for them.”
On May 5, Ahmed met with “Mohammad,” an undercover agent posing as a weapons dealer, who, despite the supposed plan to blow up the synagogue, had to remind Ahmed that he had grenades to sell. “Oh yeah,” Ahmed said, asking the price and adding that Ilter had told him about them, but “I forgot.” It’s clear from the transcript that Ahmed thought he could easily find buyers for the grenades, since they were very difficult to acquire. “[O]nly very few, like, very few, like, know what I’m saying, can get [grenades]. Very few, man,” he said to Mohammad.
Six days later, Ahmed was arrested around Fifty-eighth Street and Twelfth Avenue in Manhattan after attempting to purchase three guns and a grenade for a down payment of $100. According to the indictment, Ahmed had initially planned on paying $600 for two guns. And according to the transcripts, Ahmed at one point speculated that if he and Ilter could get a “clean” gun—new, never used in any crimes—for $300 to $500, they could resell it for double or triple that.
This means Mohammad sold Ahmed weapons that he perceived (rightly or wrongly) to have a street value of well over $2,000—three guns worth at least $600 apiece and a grenade worth a few hundred dollars—for just $100. According to Ahmed and his defense team, he believed he was being offered such a good deal because Ilter instructed him to tell Mohammad he was “doing it for the cause.”
The deal preoccupied Ahmed more than the plot. Money was constantly on his mind. “He was always trying to make a buck,” a friend of his—who didn’t want her name used—told me over the phone. At that price, she suspects, “they were just trying to put [the weapons] in his hands: ‘Take this, take this, take this.’”
When the cops took him to the precinct, Ahmed said, his phone started ringing. It was the buyer he had lined up, who was planning on purchasing at least some of the guns.
Mohamed Mamdouh was arrested several blocks away from Ahmed. He told the press that Ahmed was a drinking buddy of his and expressed skepticism that Ahmed would have gone through with the plot.
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