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A Sad Justice

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A Queens Islamic religious leader learned last week he will pay a terrible price for informing would-be terrorist Najibullah Zazi that he was being monitored by federal agents who had learned of his plot to set off a bomb in the city subway system.

Imam Ahmad Wais Afzali avoided prison but was told that he must leave the country that is now the home of his wife and children and other family members. The imam had warned Najibullah Zazi, who along with two other students from Flushing High School was planning to set off a bomb in the subway system, that he was under surveillance.

Zazi and the others had received religious instruction at Afzali’s temple. Specifically, Afzali pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials when they asked about his conversations with Zazi.

Ironically, since 9/11 Afzali had served as a police informant. He was opposed to the actions taken by terrorists, including the plot created by Zazi and his friends. He thought the terrorists were idiots who harmed Islam. Even the federal judge conceded the imam was not aware of the seriousness of his conversations with the would-be terrorist.

It should be noted that although Zazi pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing, the other two men have pleaded not guilty.

We have no sympathy for Zazi and his alleged accomplices. These men live in a city that witnessed the nation’s most devastating act of terrorism. The federal prosecutor said the planned subway attack was the most serious potential terrorist plot on American soil since 9/11.

But we feel empathy for the imam. He was caught between a rock and hard place and made a bad choice. In the end, the sentence seems just. This was a felony. The judge could have sent Afzali to federal prison for years and then deported him when he got out.

Instead, Afzali will depart on his own. The fact that he had served as a police informant will limit the number of countries where he might live safely but may become a mitigating factor at some future date.

The judge had to show it is a serious crime to assist terrorists in any way and lie to federal agents, especially when they are investigating terrorism. What happened to the imam was justice, but also sad.

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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