If anybody harbors doubts about the FBI’s commitment to and effectiveness in fighting terrorism, he need look no further than the arrest last month of Abdullah el-Faisal, a Muslim cleric whom law enforcement officials describe as a major jihadi figure.
The NYPD prompted el-Faisal’s arrest in Jamaica — more than 1,500 miles from 1 Police Plaza — not the FBI, supposedly the nation’s primary law enforcement agency fighting terrorism.
According to The New York Times, one reason for the FBI’s inaction was el-Faisal’s “helpful ties to a foreign government” that might complicate a prosecution. Another reason, the Times speculated, is that FBI agents were concerned prosecutors “have lost their appetite to pursue overseas terrorists because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said they should not be tried in civilian courts.”
But an official familiar with el-Faisal’s arrest gave a different reason for the bureau’s inaction: internal feuding over jurisdiction among NYC, Washington and Miami FBI offices.
“Twice the NYPD briefed the Joint Terrorism Task Force,” the official said on condition of anonymity to speak about the case. “They couldn’t make a decision because of the bureaucracy. What this case indicates is that domestic security is not their primary interest.”
The FBI and the NYPD have been on different paths for a long time. After 9/11, relations sank, with then-Commissioner Ray Kelly saying he didn’t trust the FBI to protect NYC from another terror attack.
Kelly stationed NYPD detectives overseas to rival the FBI’s “legates,” who work in U.S. embassies. One of those detectives prompted el-Faisal’s arrest. With Kelly gone, John Miller, the NYPD’s head of counter-terrorism, has forged closer relations with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Miller had served as the FBI’s chief spokesman in Washington.
El-Faisal will be tried by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, and not in federal court. Sources involved in the case say the Justice Department gave the all-clear to the NYPD and to Vance.
El-Faisal was indicted in NYC on charges that he helped the overseas detective, who pretended to want to go to Syria to join the Islamic State. Now, the NYPD has requested el-Faisal’s extradition. Somewhere, Kelly is probably laughing and saying, “I told you so.”