A troubled Yemeni immigrant who once set himself on
fire outside the White House was given five years' probation yesterday for bank
fraud after federal prosecutors extolled his work as an informant in a major
In an indication that the informant, Mohamed Alanssi, is continuing to do
work for federal investigators, the FBI asked that he be allowed to travel
overseas for the agency from time to time. Judge Jack B. Weinstein agreed with
that request, but cautioned that Alanssi had to stay out of trouble.
Alanssi, 52, had been the key informant in the recent case against cleric
Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad and his aide Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed. Both
defendants, who are also from Yemen, were convicted in March of conspiring to
provide material support, including financing, to Hamas and al-Qaida.
Al-Moayad, who has been a major religious figure in Yemen, was also
convicted of actually providing support to Hamas.
Alanssi, who arrived in the United States in August 2000 on a tourist visa,
testified at the trial that he felt it was his duty after the Sept. 11 attacks
to cooperate with U.S. officials against terrorism. Under the control of FBI
agents, Alanssi traveled to Yemen, where he talked on numerous occasions with
al-Moayad, whom he first met in 1995.
In a critical part of the investigation, Alanssi worked as a confidential
informant with another FBI undercover operative in Frankfurt, Germany, in early
2003. Alanssi and the second operative, who was posing as a disaffected black
American Muslim, had hours of secretly tape-recorded conversations that proved
to be central pieces of evidence leading to the conviction of al-Moayad and
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Moore praised Alanssi's work on behalf of the
FBI and asked for Weinstein to take that into consideration. She indicated
that when Alanssi set himself afire outside the White House last year, he was
under tremendous psychological pressure because of his wife's terminal stomach
cancer and his inability to travel back to Yemen to be with her.
Defense attorney Devereaux L. Cannick said that his client, because of his
government work, was living in a physical and psychological prison.
Alanssi pleaded guilty in May 2004 to a charge of bank fraud, something his
attorney indicated was prompted by the various pressures he was feeling.
Though he testified in the al-Moayad trial, Alanssi was not called by the
prosecution. Instead, the defense had him testify. But Alanssi's testimony, in
which he was combative and assailed the defendants as being tied to terrorism,
seemed to backfire.