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Outrage over Justice Dept. exoneration of FBI agents in Muslim leader's death

By Diane Bukowski Contributing Writer | Last updated: Oct 22, 2010 - 11:33:53 PM

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DETROIT ( - Family members of Imam Luqman Abdullah, along with religious and civil rights leaders, have reacted with shock and anger to the U.S. Department of Justice's exoneration of four FBI agents who shot the Islamic leader to death Oct. 28, 2009.

Imam Abdullah, head of the Masjid El-Haqq mosque in Detroit, sustained 21 gunshot wounds, a broken arm, and numerous lacerations to his face and upper body, which one medical examiner said resulted from police dog bites. Sixty-six federal agents, as well as local and international law enforcement officials, were involved in the raid which ended with his death.

“The evidence does not reveal a violation of any applicable federal criminal civil rights statutes,” the report, issued by the DOJ's Civil Rights Division Oct. 13, declared. “Accordingly, this matter will be returned to the FBI to complete its administrative review.”

Imam Dawud Walid, head of the Michigan chapter of the Council on Islamic and American Relations (CAIR) said that his organization is considering bringing charges of human rights violations to the United Nations if no justice is received from the U.S. government.

“When a person is killed unjustly in a military-style operation, it is not only his civil rights, but his human rights that are violated,” Imam Walid said. He said CAIR and the imam's family are also considering bringing a wrongful death lawsuit.

Imam Abdullah, 53, was a respected leader in the desperately poor West-side Detroit neighborhood where his mosque is located, according to many who benefited from the food, clothing and shelter that Masjid El-Haqq provided to them. The imam has been lauded locally, nationally and internationally by Muslims and Blacks, including religious leaders of different faiths.

Twenty of those leaders sent a letter to President Barack Obama in May demanding the Justice Dept. civil rights investigation.

The four federal agents cited in the Justice Dept. report were among 66 who participated in a raid on a warehouse in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb, during which the imam was killed. Three of those four belonged to a special squad of 14 counterterrorism and hostage situation agents from FBI headquarters in Virginia which took part in the raid, according to the government.

According to Dearborn police, officers with the U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration Customs Enforcement, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Wayne County Sheriff's Department, the Detroit Police as well as the Dearborn Police Dept. participated in the operation.

The raid culminated a two-year FBI undercover investigation of the imam's mosque, which turned up no terrorism-related charges, only petty theft and weapons-related violations. The indictment was issued the day before the imam's death and was based largely on reports by FBI-paid infiltrators of alleged conversations with the imam and his followers. Almost none of the conversations were taped.

Ten mosque members were arrested during and after the raid and have allegedly now pled guilty to minor charges.

“We're hurt and we're disappointed,” Omar Regan, 35, one of the imam's 13 children, said. “We believe they closed the case prematurely. There is no proof in their report that my father had a gun, and no video or photos of his shooting. There were no handprints on the gun, no DNA evidence, no gunpowder stippling. They only took the word of the four agents.”

Imam Walid said that he and other representatives of the family and community met for three hours with Justice Dept. Civil Rights division representative Thomas Perez after the report was issued.

“We found out that the DOJ, despite clearing the FBI, found no forensic evidence to corroborate the statement that the imam had a firearm. I informed Mr. Perez it would have been more prudent to delay the results until they get testimony from the four individuals from the imam's mosque who were nearby when he was killed. There is no explanation of how he was shot in the back. I am very disappointed,” said Imam Walid.

The agents directly involved in the imam's shooting, the only ones to be interviewed, told Justice Dept. investigators that Imam Abdullah opened fire on them first, and killed a police dog, before they shot him 21 times. Authorities said they raided the warehouse, which was rented by the FBI, to prevent the imam and his followers from receiving televisions they “thought” were stolen. The FBI also provided the televisions.

The report reiterated many of the findings announced by Michigan's Attorney General Mike Cox Sept. 30, when he declared that he found no evidence that the FBI had violated state laws.

Mr. Cox's report admitted that no fingerprints were found on the gun the imam was alleged to have used. The Justice Dept. report added that no gunshot residue tests were performed on the imam's hands, this confirmed a statement made earlier by Wayne County Medical Examiner Carl Schmidt that the imam's hands had not been bagged to preserve any such evidence.

Mr. Cox's report indicated that no video of the imam's actual shooting was available because it took place behind a pallet full of televisions that the FBI informants had stacked up beforehand. The DOJ report said additionally that four undercover informants in possession of the only FBI audio equipment left the warehouse with the equipment before the raid.

The Justice Dept. report confirms that a police dog trained to grab a suspect's arm attacked the imam, breaking his arm, and that the dog's face was close to the imam's face at the time the dog died of three gunshot wounds to its chest.

Numerous slashes, cuts and bruises were found on the imam's face and upper body, according to the Schmidt autopsy report. They included a wound which ripped the imam's mouth open on one side, and forced out his dentures.

An independent medical examiner, Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, hired by the Michigan chapter of the Council on American and Islamic Relations (CAIR), said those wounds were consistent only with dog bites.

The report claims the bullets which killed the dog were consistent with the gun allegedly possessed by the imam and with ammunition allegedly found in his house.

However, no direct ballistics tests matching the gun and bullets are cited, and no necropsy report on the dog, which had been demanded by the imam's family, is included in the report.

The DOJ report admits, as the imam's supporters contended all along, that the dog was airlifted to a hospital for medical treatment. It says only that the imam himself “appeared dead,” with no statement that any medical professionals examined him for signs of life.

“At first they said my father was a terrorist, but then they ended up declaring him a common thug,” Mr. Regan said. “At first they said he didn't surrender, but then they said he did surrender and laid down as they ordered. How did he get shot in the back? They had an arrest warrant for his house. Why didn't they arrest him there instead? Why did they stage this whole operation? Why did they go after my family like this?”

Mr. Regan said that he was never contacted by the DOJ during the process of the investigation, that he only received a call from them after it was complete.

He said the whole case has been very “rough” on his family, including the imam's wife, who the government has attempted to deport, but that the family is “holding on.”

“It's clear we have to stand up for justice,” Mr. Regan said. “We have to rely on the Creator, and on the hearts of the people as we continue our fight.”

About a dozen religious and community leaders gathered at the Muslim Center of Detroit for a press conference to denounce the report October 14.

They included members of the imam's family, including his wife, Imam Walid, Imam Abdullah El-Amin, leader of the Muslim Center, Rev. David Bullock of Greater St. Matthews Church in Highland Park, Rev. Charles Williams II of King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church, and Rev. Ed Rowe of Central United Methodist Church.

Related news:

Coalition of African-American Muslims speaks out on anti-Islamic in United States (FCN, 09-03-2010)

Obama administration needs to probe death of imam, say faith leaders, activists (FCN, 06-02-2010)

Report: Detroit Imam slain by FBI agents suffered 21 gunshot wounds (FCN, 02-05-2010)

Groups pressure Justice Dept. in case of slain imam (FCN, 12-01-2010)

Activists, family demand justice in shooting death of imam (FCN, 11-15-2010)

A vigilant, determined community moves on (FCN, 11-10-2010)

Funeral held for slain mosque leader, questions remain (FCN, 11-03-2010)

Anti-Islamic sentiment, attacks must be condemned (FCN, 05-24-2010)

FBI targets religious groups (FCN, 04-23-2009)