The Newburgh Deception: HBO Documentary Whitewashes American Jihad Plot

The Newburgh Sting will air Monday, July 21 on HBO.  This documentary concerns a 2009 FBI undercover operation against terrorist attacks upon New York area targets.  Viewers beware, though; this film ignores copious evidence of jihadist motivation in a tale of deprived individuals entrapped by zealous officials that discredits effective tactics against terror.

The documentary analyzes how four American Muslims undertook what they thought would be attacks against two Bronx synagogues and American military transport planes in a May 20, 2009 FBI sting.  The operation begins with FBI informant Shahed Hussain visiting Newburgh, New York’s Masjid Al-Ikhlas mosque undercover, where the apparently wealthy Hussain raised suspicions with persistent inquiries into jihad.  “Everybody here is straight,” however, so Al-Ikhlas imam Salahuddin Muhammad remained unconcerned.

Yet the film recounts how Hussain encountered in Al-Ikhlas’s parking lot, on June 13, 2008, James Cromitie, as described by court records, where his Muslim name, Abdul Rehman, also appears.  In the film, Cromitie falls prey not to talk of jihad, but rather to Hussain’s offer of $250,000, according to former FBI agent and ACLU policy analyst Mike German.  “They’re doing it for the money,” Cromitie likewise says on a surveillance tape in the film about the three plotters he recruits.  David Williams (“AKA DAOUD” in official documents), for example, liked “weed and women,” according to his aunt.  He merely became a “jailhouse Muslim” in order to avoid prison gangs and wanted money for his mother’s liver transplant operation.

These four plotters “certainly were not terrorists,” German judges, but ran afoul of FBI entrapment.  The “rules don’t apply anymore” at an FBI that after September 11, 2001, views the “entire Muslim community as suspect,” German criticizes.  “Some bad actors in every community” can appear, concurs Representative Keith Ellison, when authorities “channel a vast amount of law enforcement resources.”  Muslims are now merely the “new thing” after Communists in the 1950s and gang members in the 1990s.

Yet “Islam literally means peace,” Al-Ikhlas assistant imam Hamin Rashada says.  The “most beautiful thing that has ever come off the tongue” is the Koran, he adds, breaking into tears, to which terrorists are “only giving lip service.”  Zero American mosques have had terrorism links, Nihad Awad, from the unindicted terrorism financing co-conspirator Council on American-Islamic Relations, also assures.  

Treating Muslims as “partners or as suspects” in law enforcement is the choice Salam al-Marayati from the equally radical Muslim Public Affairs Council outlines for authorities.  Marayati wanted “to push out surveillance as a law enforcement tactic…with effective partnership programs” at a June 2014 presentation of The Newburgh Sting.

Brief references to jihadist ideology appear in the documentary.  The Bronx synagogues are “good…excellent” targets for Cromitie because “I hate those…f---ing Jewish bastards.”  “This is jihad,” Hussain in turn stresses to Cromitie, and not just a matter of money.

Court records, however, give a far fuller account of why the four plotters’ entrapment defense failed both at trial and on appeal.  Cromitie wanted “to do something to America…to die like a shahid, a martyr” and “go to paradise,” he declared to Hussain after initiating contact with him on June 13, 2008.  “In all his prior encounters as an informant,” Hussain “had never heard anything like that before,” the prosecutor’s brief to the appeals court observed.  

Cromitie later explained to Hussain how he had previously threatened to bomb a military recruiting office because of a recruiter’s comments.  Targets suggested by Cromitie included the White House, or something “huge” in Manhattan like the United Nations.  Cromitie, while attending a Philadelphia conference of the radical Muslim Alliance of North America at Hussain’s invitation, expressed wanting to make such attacks since age seven.  Thus, Cromitie would deny “on the day of judgment” to “Allah” that Hussain “enticed Abdul Rahman.”

Taped Cromitie conversations contain “rants against Jews and the United States military…some of the most hateful, bigoted, and ignorant statements to which this court has ever been exposed,” the trial court judged.  Cromitie, for example, wanted to kill the president “700 times because he’s an antichrist.”  Cromitie’s targeting of Jews as the “most wickedest people that Allah has created” deserved a hate crime sentencing enhancement, prosecutors argued.   

“We’re gonna be in a lot of trouble on the day of judgment,” Cromitie professed to Hussain, because “brothers are doing stuff now that’s not Islamic” in contrast to “real Muslims” like Cromitie.  Cromitie’s discussions with Hussain indeed revealed that he had studied jihadist ideology.  Cromitie plotter recruit Laguerre Payenne (“AKA AMIN”) also recommended leadership advice from Islam’s prophet Muhammad.

“Insha’ Allah….I’m doing this for the sake of Allah,” Payenne described his jihadist motivation for his active participation in the plot expressly shared by plotters David and Onta Williams (“AKA HAMZA).  The four plotters hugged and shouted “Allahu akbar” while handling what they considered live weapons and Cromitie gushed about “going down in history.”  David Williams also predicted the airport attack would “be a hell of a story…Tell your grandkids,” something that “would all be equal” to American military operations abroad according to Onta Williams.

As for “money, the money helps, but I’m doing it for the sake of Allah,” Onta Williams stated while discussing the need “to take care of…normal lives.”  Not a “damn dime” appeared necessary for Cromitie, meanwhile.  “I’m not giving you anything except Allah…you can walk out, brother,” Hussain likewise stated to Cromitie and David Williams. 

The only “inducement to commit jihad” noted by prosecutors was Hussain’s offer the night before the operation of $5,000 for each plotter after the attack, something accepted without complaint.  Cromitie, meanwhile, never asked for $250,000 and or investigated a statement by Hussain possibly making this offer unauthorized by the government.  “Whatever the going rate for such terrorist activities,” the appeals court judged, “only an offer significantly higher would require us to consider whether due process limits had been exceeded,” particularly given similar inducements for assassinations.

“Not a scintilla of evidence,” the trial court concluded, denies that the plotters “willingly and enthusiastically” prepared “unimaginably heinous crimes.”  Perjury by Hussain, described as an “absolute chronic liar” in the film, is irrelevant.  The plotters, “irrespective of whether they wanted to make money,” were “supremely dangerous,” prosecutors noted.  

The Newburgh Sting’s depiction of a benign Islam whose adherents merely turn to violence due to poverty and suffer unjust government scrutiny thus conceals a deadly reality.  Imam Muhammad’s past sermon condemnations as a Sunni prison pastor of Shiite Muslims as “infiltrators and snitches” indicates the dangerous radicalism present in American mosques.  Al-Ihklas founder Warith Deen Umar, a radical imam who has praised the 9/11 attacks, likewise manifests well-documented dangers in many mosques, Awad notwithstanding.  The Newburgh Sting’s false condemnation of undercover investigations among such Muslims will only expose America.

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