The Muslim and African-American communities in Detroit, Michigan strongly feel that Imam Luqman Abdullah is innocent. They may be wrong. They may be defending a guilty man, but they have a reasonable doubt, and that's something that's very valuable in our country. No jury or society can declare a man guilty unless it's sure—beyond a reasonable doubt.
I contacted Dawud Walid, the Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to discuss this case.
Wazwaz: Can you briefly explain what happened according to your understanding of the case?
Walid: On October 28, 2009 How we understand it is there were- and this is according to the criminal affidavit- there were three confidential informants, of them at least was an agent provocateur that led the Imam and a couple of other congregants to a warehouse. According to community members, this person was an agent provocateur was passing himself off as a businessperson and bringing them there to do jobs. The Imam owned a pickup truck and he was asked to drive these gentlemen over there to help move what ended up in some televisions at a warehouse. Once they got to the warehouse, the agent provocateur excused himself, and then percussion grenades were then exploded within the warehouse. FBI agents came in with guns drawn. As the individuals were laying down and as we have been told the Imam was not brandishing a firearm, dogs were let loose. As the dogs came through and started to rip through his jacket sleeves right here and we’ve seen the pictures were marks on his face. Then the FBI purports that the Imam then put out a gun and shot the FBI canine, and then they filled him up with 21 gunshots, including one in the back.
The FBI and the police never called for medical assistance for the imam, but they flew the dog in their helicopter to a vet.
Wazwaz: Did the Imam have a gun?
Walid: We’re not even sure if the Imam even had a gun. We sent in a Freedom of Information Act request which has not been answered by the FBI in regards to the necropsy report which is basically on autopsy report of the dog to see what caliber bullets entered into the dog. Because in fact, it could of been bullets the FBI or so-called friendly fire.
Wazwaz: How was he found by the medical examiner?
Walid: According to the medical examiner, the Imam’s body was moved from the warehouse to the trailer and was found with his wrists handcuffed. There was very little blood at the actual scene where he was shot 21 times. The family got his body the following day and an autopsy was done without permission of the family. They retrieved his body with the director of a funeral home who was Muslim. For a longtime, the findings of the autopsy were suppressed by the police.
Wazwaz: Why do you believe the FBI was after him?
Walid: Informants were sent to the mosque claiming they were looking for extremists' activity. The affidavit calls him a highly placed leader of a Sunni fundamentalist group and that he had a plot to overthrow the government and impose Shariah. No one in the mosque was charged for anything. The charges were mainly dealing with stolen goods.
Wazwaz: How was the family notified of the shooting?
Walid: The imam's son, Mujahid, saw the news of his father on television.
Wazwaz: Did you meet Imam Luqman personally? How would you describe him if you did?
Walid: I never heard him give a sermon, but met with him with different community leaders and imams. My interaction with him is that he was a very quiet man. In a group of people, he would sit back and listen. He would wait till he heard everyone before offering his opinion. He did a lot of assistance in helping people who were transitioning out of prison. They owned a few properties that they were fixing to turn into transitional housing. Many people who attended his mosque were poor, some of them being homeless.
Wazwaz: How would you describe the coverage in the media in Detroit?
Walid: In the beginning, the coverage was that he was a radical extremist. A few TV stations reported everything the FBI said as facts. As civil rights groups got concerned - the coverage started to change, there were more editorials and coverage questioning the FBI, police and their suppressing the autopsy report. Congressman John Conyers and others started to get involved. The mayor of Detroit and state representative, Betty Scott called for further investigation.
Wazwaz: How do you feel the investigation is going right now?
Walid: Right now they are reviewing the FBI shooting, but they have not launched a civil rights investigation. We're hopeful that Congressman Conyers will hold hearings regarding the usage of confidential informants and agent provocateurs in houses of worship.
Wazwaz: Has any major civil rights organization spoke on this issue?
Walid: A number of organizations have written Holder letters, like the NAACP, Muslim Advocates, ACLU, and others.
Wazwaz: If you can say one thing publicly to Attorney General Holder what would it be?
Walid: We would like a robust and thorough transparent investigation into the killing of Imam Luqman Abdullah. If wrong doing is found, we hope that he has the courage to fire those responsible and to also prosecute them.
Wazwaz: In such an investigation, doesn't it require a relationship with the community?
Walid: I think it is very important for those doing the investigation, - that they meet the community and to actually see the mosque and the people who were there.
Wazwaz: Does the family have a spokesperson that can speak on their behalf?
Walid: Family has a very articulate spokesperson, Omar Regan, who is a comedian and actor who served as a body double for Hollywood star Chris Tucker. And CAIR has kept this issue in the forefront in the media.
The African-American community in Detroit Michigan feels strongly about getting a platform to tell its story. Only a few media stories have touched on how Imam Abdullah lived and helped the homeless people. I hope people of influence and voice can give them such a platform to be heard and understood, and afterwards, by all means, ask hard and critical questions regarding the case.