Tarik Shah, an observant Muslim, a well-known jazz bass player who played at President Clinton’s inauguration, and a self-defense trainer and martial arts teacher in New York City, was approached by three separate informants, beginning in 2001, who tried to get him to do something illegal. After the first informant failed to engage Tarik in illegal activity, in 2003 the second informant, Theodore Shelby aka “Saeed,” an ex-convict and former Black Panther, asked Tarik to give him music lessons and eventually moved into Tarik’s home with him, tape-recording every conversation. Shelby then introduced Tarik to a supposed Al-Qaeda recruiter (the third informant, who was actually an undercover FBI agent), who offered Tarik $1,000 a week if he would agree to train jihadists in martial arts. Tarik agreed, although he did not accept any money.
The New York Times wrote that the “plot...was almost entirely talk…No weapons appear to have been bought, and no martial arts training took place.” The “plot” continued for two years and became a joint FBI/NYPD sting operation.
Tarik was finally arrested in May 2005 and was held in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC) in New York until 2007. Facing a thirty-year sentence, and realizing that he could not get a fair trial and would be found guilty by association, he pleaded guilty in 2007 to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, with a scheduled release date of 2018.
The New York Times wrote that “the government has acknowledged that neither Mr. Shah, nor the three others accused in the case…were on the verge of any violent act.” Tarik has never in his life advocated violence.
Tarik’s case is an example of preemptive prosecution: a law enforcement strategy, adopted after 9/11, to target and prosecute individuals or organizations whose beliefs, ideology, or religious affiliations raise security concerns for the government. I support the efforts of Tarik’s family and supporters for commutation of his sentence.