Another Terror Sting

Earlier this week  Federal agents arrest Amine El Khalifi; he allegedly planned to bomb Capitol:

For more than a year, Amine El Khalifi, of Alexandria, considered attacking targets including a synagogue, an Alexandria building with military offices and a Washington restaurant frequented by military officials, authorities said. When arrested a few blocks from the Capitol around lunchtime on Friday, he was carrying what he believed to be a loaded automatic weapon and a suicide vest ready for detonation.

The gun and vest were provided not by al-Qaeda, as Khalifi had been told, but by undercover FBI agents who rendered them inoperable, authorities said.

They said Khalifi had been the subject of a lengthy investigation and never posed a threat to the public.


Khalifi “allegedly believed he was working with al-Qaeda,” said Neil H. MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Khalifi “devised the plot, the targets and the methods on his own.”

On the one, the good news is that the plot ended up being harmless.  On the other, this is just the latest example of terror plots that seemingly would not exist save for them being involved in some sort of law enforcement sting.

Along those lines, I have to agree with the general assessment  from the following:

Ashraf Nubani, a Muslim lawyer in Washington who has defended terrorism suspects in similar cases in the past, said he has has watched with alarm the increase of such FBI stings.

“It’s controlled from beginning to end by FBI. But you can’t create a terrorism case and then say you stopped it,” Nubani said. “Had the FBI not been involved, through their manipulation or informants, would the same thing have happened? Would there be attempted violence? They have their sights on certain people, the ones who talk big talk.”

I suppose it would be one thing if the FBI is simply finding true threats and then gathering sufficient evidence for prosecution.  However, one does wonder as to the degree to which these strings are, in fact, simply creating faux threats that can then be neutralized.

This matters, if anything, because it is impossible to fully know how serious the actual terror threat is if these cases are more FBI creation that actual identification and detection.

Some previous posts on similar operations by Doug Mataconis:  Terrorist Plot, Or Homeland Security Theater? and Terrorist Plot, Or Entrapment?

FILED UNDER: National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. As I noted in the posts you linked, I really have to wonder whether this is a smart use of police resources. It seems pretty clear that none of the people that were caught through these sting operations would have gotten anywhere close to plotting a terror attack, never mind carrying one out, had it not been for the involvement of FBI agents playing the role of al Qaeda contacts. its worth noting, for example, that the most recent event that actually came close to being a terror attack — the Times Square attempted bombing — was carried out without law enforcement ever knowing what was going on. Even then, though, the guy put together such an amateurish bomb that he couldn’t even get it to detonate.

    That said, there is one thing worth noting about these cases that doesn’t usually get much play in the media. In many cases (and I’m not sure about this one) it turns out that law enforcement was tipped off to a person with radical tendencies by other people in the Muslim community, including in at least one case people at a mosque attended by the suspect.. Someone should point that out to the Pamela Gellar’s of the world.

  2. Gustopher says:

    If this was a radical pro-lifer, who had been goaded into attempting to bomb an abortion clinic, I think we would hear a lot more about entrapment.

    I question the effectiveness of this strategy. Rather than removing the patsies before they get in contact with real al Quaeda agents, wouldn’t it make more sense to identify the potential patsies and wait for them to to hopefully lead us to an actual terror cell?

    I shed no tears for this twit. But we should be making better use of twits.

  3. mattb says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Unfortunately the Pan Gellar’s of the world are too busy coming up with tortured logic like this to ever actually deal with the broader facts:

    In fact, Khalifi was the opposite of a ‘lone wolf,’ both in reality and, even more importantly, in his own mind. His plans were conceived and materials acquired with the assistance of others, but perhaps more importantly Khalifi thought that his suicide attack on the U.S. Capitol was the first of a two-part strike on America by al Qaeda, with the second part being a larger attack on a military installation by domestically-based al Qaeda terrorists.

    So according to this tortured logic, it was this guy thought he was working for al Qaeda to say he didn’t act alone. But also, he can’t have been a lone wolf because he was being assisted by the FBI…?!

    So working with the FBI, posing as al Qeada is, in this writers mind, apparently the same thing as working with al Qeada?

    Seriously, can someone unravel that logic for me…

  4. thomas says:

    People can post prayers for Amine El Khalifi and register a prayer commitment at the Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer web site

  5. @mattb:

    For the second year in a row I saw Pam Gellar at CPAC. For the second year in a row I needed to restrain myself from walking up to her and telling her what I really thought about her.

  6. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Between these stings, the continued incineration of terrorists overseas via drone strikes, continued renditions, icing bin Laden in cold blood, and keeping Gitmo open for business, I’d say the administration on this front is doing a great job. A+ work.

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    These sting operations are at best a waste of resources. I think It’s about justifying budgets and keeping the fear thing going for political purposes. I truly hope that one of these theatrical busts is thrown out for entrapment.

  8. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Why did you feel the need to restrain yourself? Are you afraid that CPAC won’t invite you back?

  9. No, I just don’t choose to engage in needless confrontations.

  10. @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: @Doug Mataconis: Those are the kinds of confrontations that one cannot win. They only work on TV and in the movies.

  11. mattb says:

    @Doug Mataconis & @Steven L. Taylor:
    I totally agree with the idea that, when debating someone like Gellar or some of the commentors here, you will never be able to win an argument with them (see the current Newt/gas thread as an example).

    That said, when dealing with someone as odious as Geller, the point isn’t to change her mind, it’s to change the mind of the people around her. And as she’ll never put herself in anything that resembles an honest debate, I think there is a point in engaging her on what she thinks is friendly ground.

    If nothing else, the hope is to win the hearts and minds (if you will) of those around you. Otherwise, it just further cedes CPAC and conservatism to its worst elements. And of course, the same would be true of any group whose loudest members are also its most fringe.