A setback for Ayyub

December 12, 2013

Ian Turner and David Wood report on a legal setback in the case of Ayyub Abdul-Alim in Massachusetts--and on the efforts of his supporters to continue the fight for justice.

AYYUB ABDUL-Alim, a Muslim man victimized by the police and courts after refusing to become an informant, faced another disappointment when a judge recently refused to dismiss charges against him.

December 9 marked the second year of Ayyub's imprisonment without trial on charges that he says were fabricated by the FBI and police. Ayyub, a 35-year-old African American and Puerto Rican who was raised as a Muslim, had firearms and ammunition charges leveled against him after a stop-and-frisk by Springfield, Mass., police. Ayyub's arrest was ordered by Springfield police officer Ronald Sheehan, who serves on a joint federal and state terrorism task force.

According to Ayyub, police recordings show that he was searched and cleared of having any weapons--before police "found" a weapon. That same day, however, he was booked and later greeted by an FBI agent, who he says offered to have the charges dropped in return for his becoming an informant in the local Muslim community.

As Ayyub explained in a statement:

Community members rally for Justice for Ayyub
Community members rally for Justice for Ayyub

In December of 2011, I was targeted and arrested on a fabricated weapons charge less than five minutes after closing my store, Natures Garden, by the Springfield Police Department in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). I have been incarcerated against my will at the Hampden House of Corrections for approximately two years pending trial--despite the fact that I have police recordings revealing I was searched and cleared of any weapons and then forcibly strip searched and probed sexually in view of the public.

Most importantly, I have been offered exoneration of the aforementioned fabricated charges, prior to being arraigned in Springfield Court, at the Springfield police station (by the FBI and Springfield police)--only if I agreed to become an informant against my will to spy on the Muslim community.

THE U.S. "war on terror" at home has meant the ruining of innocent lives, including Ayyub's. Not only has Ayyub never been connected to "terrorism," he was a founder of a community center in Springfield, Mass., that offered mentoring services, housing assistance, tutoring, job leads and a free food program. As an active community organizer, Ayyub was a beacon of hope for many in his community, yet he currently sits behind bars.

At the heart of Ayyub's pretrial hearings were the defense's motion to suppress the use of a stop-and-frisk and a paid informant. Despite public pressure, Judge John S. Ferrara ruled on December 5 that police had the right to stop-and-frisk Ayyub. The decision sets a disturbing precedence for the continued institutionalization of racial profiling in Springfield and the entrapping of people without just cause.

Springfield is home to many Muslims. Unfortunately, Judge Ferrara's decision means that the community is open to being targeted by the police.

In fact, the reported use of a paid police informant shows that Ayyub was targeted by law enforcement even before any charge was brought against him. Allowing this gives the nod to pre-emptive prosecution: the targeting of people who have committed no crime. Coming from a government that starts pre-emptive wars and pre-emptive drone strikes on the innocent abroad, this is not surprising.

Beyond the insidious nature of using paid informants to spy on people who have done nothing wrong, such informants are notoriously unreliable. Police often hold many "strings" over the heads of informants, including payments, jail time, or deportation. As a result, in some cases, informants fabricate whatever police want to hear.

Supporting the use of paid informants is not uncommon for judges in Massachusetts. A few months ago in Lowell, Mass., a district judge ruled in favor of police who used informants to plant drugs on their suspects.

So why the continued use and reliance on informants? They produce results. Innocent people are entrapped, called "terrorists" and put behind bars under the guise of protecting American "freedom." This upholds the alarmist and artificial threat politicians use to continue the very profitable "war on terror."

In Ayyub's case, the FBI's paid informant was Ayyub's wife, Siham Nafi Stewart. As an immigrant, Stewart allegedly was threatened with deportation.

Stewart allegedly called her police handler, officer Sheehan, when Ayyub left the couple's apartment and told Sheehan that Ayyub had a gun. Records show that even when police initially searched Ayyub, no weapon was found. It was only following this initial search, and after officers had reconvened and brought Ayyub into the back of their cruiser, that a weapon was "found."

THE PUBLIC'S call to have Ayyub freed is growing more pronounced.

At pre-trial hearings that took place in late November, more than 50 people packed the courtroom showing support. The Justice for Ayyub Coalition includes students, community members and local organizations.

Beyond turning out for court dates, supporters have also organized fundraising for Ayyub's bail. On December 4, they leafleted state Rep. Ben Swan's office and marched to the nearby federal building, which houses the FBI's local office.

The group also organized a "Justice for Ayyub and the Fight Against Islamophobia" panel discussion on December 5 that drew more than 50 people. Those in the room connected Ayyub's case to a pattern of racial profiling, entrapment and surveillance of Muslims and communities of color. People also discussed how this has been exacerbated by continued U.S. imperialist wars in the Middle East and U.S. support of Israel's occupation of Palestine.

Ayyub's supporters have quickly learned that Ayyub's case is not about him alone. Their outrage has resulted in them mobilizing against the whole criminal injustice system, the scapegoating of Muslims, the perpetuation of the New Jim Crow, the targeting of activists, and the justification of imperialist wars abroad.

The decision by Judge Ferrara to sanctify stop-and-frisk and the use of a paid informant in Ayyub's case is yet another sign of the attack on our rights.

But the campaign to fight for justice for Ayyub has shown that Judge Ferrara's decision will not be the last word in the case.

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