An Algerian-American man who claimed prison guards repeatedly abused him because of his conviction on terrorism charges is in a coma following an attempted suicide, according to his family. Ahmed Ferhani’s parents were notified of their son’s attempt to hang himself on Thursday morning by officials from Attica Correctional Facility. Lamis Deek, Ferhani’s attorney, confirmed that he had been moved from Attica to an outside medical facility and was in a medically induced coma. A Department of Corrections spokesperson confirmed that Ferhani was transferred to an outside hospital and remains in the custody of Attica Correctional Facility.
In the year leading up to his suicide attempt, Ferhani detailed a pattern of targeted violence at Attica and Great Meadow Correctional Facility—where he had previously been held—in a series of letters reviewed by The Nation. The notes provide a rare window into prison life for Muslims who have been convicted of terrorism, in many instances after long and involved investigations involving multiple undercover agents and informants.
In 2012, Ferhani pleaded guilty to terrorism and hate-crime charges for discussing attacks on New York City synagogues with an undercover NYPD officer. The media immediately dubbed him “the synagogue bomber,” though the real story is far more complicated, as I detailed in The Nation. Days before his arrest, for instance, he told the undercover officer that instead of carrying out the plot, he wanted to just flip the guns they were going to buy for a profit. During the controlled-weapons sting, a second undercover officer posing as an arms dealer had to remind Ferhani to buy a set of grenades.
The case against him was flimsy enough that the FBI removed itself from the investigation in its early stages. The NYPD continued to pursue Ferhani, despite its knowledge of his history of mental illness and self-harm.
Two of Ferhani’s letters were addressed to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in hopes of calling her attention to his case. The most recent, addressed March 30, suggested he would face retaliation for asking for her help and signaled his plans to commit suicide. “Because this complaint will only further create more retaliation there is only one thing to do,” he wrote. In the same letter, he recounts a recent incident where he was left in the shower for an hour and 10 minutes, despite repeatedly asking to be returned to his cell. In his telling, when he exited the shower a corrections officer Ferhani identified only as Officer Debo reportedly told another officer, “I’m gonna hurt this fucking kid.”
In the other letter addressed to Lynch, Ferhani writes, “I want everyone to know that the next time I am violated by correction officers or their supervisors I will take my own life. If taking my own life is the only way to expose the evils that are practiced daily by corrections officers then I will be glad to do it.”
In several of the letters, he details a consistent list of grievances. “I have been denied food, water, telephone, recreation and law library services. My personal and religious property has been destroyed and my mail thrown in the garbage. My life has been threatened countless times and I have been the victim of sexual harassment,” Ferhani wrote in a letter to The Nation’s editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel. “Recently, correction officers orchestrated a hit on me which resulted in a brutal assault leaving me with twelve staples to my head.”