The Accidental Terrorist

He stumbled into a group of Muslim extremists with plans to attack America. Then he stumbled into Miami. Today Shaheed Mohamed is nowhere to be found.

"But ten minutes before the attack, when you hadn't been beaten and stabbed, you couldn't run away from them because of a bad leg?" asks the judge.

"Exactly, sir. Because at that point -- "

"That's an incredible recovery," Dowell interrupts.

Tom Bennett
Tom Bennett

In a closing statement, INS attorney Carlos Maury tells Dowell that Mohamed is not to be believed. "He's running for his life from his country, he stops in numerous countries, and yet doesn't ask for asylum anywhere?" asks Maury. "That's just inconceivable."

After denying his asylum request, Dowell advised Mohamed of his right to appeal.

Initially Mohamed did appeal, and during late August and early September FIAC lawyers spoke with him several more times on the phone as they weighed whether to take him on as a client. He told Sharpless in one conversation that if he were deported to Trinidad, he would immediately run to South America to avoid those who were out to kill him.

In a letter to Wallace written after September 11, Mohamed again included a synopsis of his travails in South America and in U.S. detention, and he said he had filed an appeal of the judge's decision to deny asylum. He also told Wallace that back in July, after he had been moved from the Krome Detention Center to Bradenton, a fellow detainee, a Muslim from South America, made threats to harm him after learning that Mohamed had informed on Muslims in Trinidad.

Mohamed said he was assaulted a second time by another inmate after he refused to give him his phone card. "I was lying on my bed, and he started punching me on my face," Mohamed wrote. "I got stitches and [am] supposed to do surgery tomorrow. I don't feel safe since the incident. Why they can't take me back to Krome, where the criminals is separated from the INS detainees?"

Days after September 11, Cheryl Little called a staff meeting to discuss the fallout settling over immigrants and their advocates. While honoring their moral and ethical obligations to clients, Little told staffers, they should also be alert for any information refugees might have about terrorism. At that point, Little recounts, someone mentioned Mohamed's letter. She asked to see it and added it to papers to take home.

Late that night, Little recalls, she finally got to it. "When I read that letter I said, ďOh, my God!' I sat up in bed. I couldn't sleep that night."

The next morning Little called an FBI agent she knew from another case. She faxed the agent a copy of the letter. "I thought, My God, this guy may have important information," says Little. "But I never heard back."

Ironically as Mohamed was being deported, his island homeland was again in crisis. In elections last month the nation's two major political parties each won 18 seats in the 36-seat parliament, heightening tensions between those of African and East Asian descent. The stalemate over the next prime minister seemed broken when Trinidad and Tobago's president named opposition leader and former prime minister Patrick Manning to another term.

Efforts to reach Mohamed by telephone through a mosque he once attended were unsuccessful. But his tale of involvement with an Islamic terrorist cell planning violent attacks against the United States seems eerily foreboding in light of what is now known. In the July letter to FIAC, he wrote, "I'm willing to go as a state witness against the Muslims anytime anything of the sort happens because I've been close to them and I know their dirty tricks. All of it.

"I also know that bin Laden is the biggest hypocrite in the Middle East -- a coward who finances terrorist activities and then goes into hiding. Only a coward hides. His money cannot fool me to do his dirty work."

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