On June 20, 2007, Ashooh gave Youssef $10,000 in cash from the FBI. Youssef arranged to meet Akram in a shopping-center parking lot on Little River Turnpike. He said the Chicago trip was a success: He had beaten the victim bloody, but the Jordanian could give him only $12,000. Youssef said he had kept $2,000 as payment, and he handed over $10,000 to Akram Salih.
Though Salih was disappointed that Youssef wasn’t able to shake the Jordanian down for $38,000, he saw it as a win. They would do something similar and “make up for it next time.”
Word that Youssef had busted up a man in Chicago and returned with $10,000 raised his profile. In April 2008, Mohammed connected him to a man named Sameh Ibrahim. He asked Youssef to get him out of a jam with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Sameh had arranged a marriage of convenience with an American woman but had botched his filings and was about to be deported. He wanted Youssef to make sure his “wife” didn’t spill the beans to the feds; he also wanted Youssef to bribe an ICE agent.
Sameh also asked Youssef to get fake driver’s licenses for his two sons. Youssef said it all could be done for $4,500. Sameh gave him a $500 down payment and promised to raise the rest.
On the night of September 29, 2008, Ashooh donned his tactical gear, body armor, and baseball cap and drove to the Kmart parking lot on Little River Turnpike. Ashooh’s FBI bosses had told him to end his investigation and take down the subjects. The plan was to arrest the seven suspects in various locations, but the main event played out behind the Kmart.
The bait was a simple buy-bust. Mohammed, the car dealer, had a green card but wanted a passport. He had agreed to pay Youssef $5,000 for the fake document. On the night of the arrests, Mohammed was supposed to pay the cash and get the passport. Akram Salih was supposed to be with him in the parking lot.
In the car with the two suspects, Youssef was supposed to signal when the deal was done; Ashooh, backed up by federal and local cops, would jump out and make the arrests.
At the same time, police and FBI agents were set up to arrest Amjad Hamed, who had moved to Springfield. Agents were ready to take Sameh Ibrahim and his sons into custody on charges of conspiring to bribe an immigration agent.
Ashooh was conflicted. He was excited about making the arrests but also believed there was potential for expanding his investigation of wrongdoing and, perhaps, terrorism. He was willing to keep dangling Youssef as bait in Annandale’s Middle Eastern community. But his FBI superiors wanted to close out the investigation.
Everything was going as planned in the Kmart lot. Youssef and the two subjects had pulled their car behind a Chevy Chase Bank. They were talking. Ashooh, parked about 30 feet away, was listening.
Youssef had several ways to signal Ashooh that the deal had gone down: He would say, “Are you happy now?” and throw his cigarette out the window. If neither of those worked, he’d flash his brake lights.
Fairfax City cops were stationed in marked cars at the exits; a chopper was ready to be dispatched to light up the lot.
A motorcycle was parked between Ashooh and Youssef’s car. As the deal was coming to a head, the cyclist approached the bike, started to put on his helmet, got a call on his cell phone, and started talking. He blocked Youssef’s car. Youssef tossed the cigarette. He pumped the brakes. Ashooh didn’t want to run over the motorcyclist.
When Mohammed and Akram opened their doors to get out, Ashooh had to move. He gunned his car to block Youssef’s, two other FBI agents hemmed it in, Fairfax police cars raced in with sirens blaring.
Ashooh ordered Youssef and the other two to kneel and said to all three: “You are under arrest.”
The arrests of Amjad and the others went off without a hitch.
Was Amjad Hamed a common criminal trying to raise cash by any means necessary, or was he part of a terrorist network capable of launching a 9/11-type attack on the United States? Was his cousin Ibrahim a gunrunner, a Hezbollah sympathizer, or both?
Was Akram Salih a hard-working contractor who made a mistake by asking Youssef to collect a debt by force? Or was he part of a dangerous network?
If Mohammed Abdelazez could bargain for a fake passport for his personal use, could he also get false papers for potential terrorists? And if Sameh Ibrahim was willing to bribe an immigration agent to keep from getting deported, would he do the same for terrorists?
Ashooh wanted prosecutors to add up Amjad Hamed’s crimes and charge him under terrorism statutes. The legal term is “material support” of terrorism. He wrote a 30-page affidavit supporting his argument.
The case was handled by the US Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia, in Alexandria. The prosecutors read Ashooh’s affidavit; they disagreed with his assessment.
The prosecutors declined multiple requests for interviews or comment about the case. They accepted guilty pleas from all seven men arrested. In exchange, none would serve much time behind bars. None went to trial.
The full accounting of their crimes is told here for the first time. But the question remains: Were they terrorists or thugs?
Terrorism cases aren’t easy to prove. Investigators have to gather hard evidence such as weapons or bombs. Prosecutors have the burden of indicting subjects for violating specific crimes and proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a suspect was plotting to perform a terrorist act.
Ashooh wanted to prove the terrorism angle; prosecutors didn’t think they could make the case. Should they have?
Joseph Persichini Jr. was Ashooh’s boss as head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. He is circumspect. When Akram Salih was sentenced in February, Persichini said in a press release: “The FBI is particularly concerned about activities of those who brag about selling a missile to hit the Pentagon or casually discuss the sale of large quantities of assault rifles. These individuals, some of whom are here illegally, abused the freedoms they were afforded here.”