Federal officials set up a Queens imam in what was a "perjury trap," hoping to catch him in any misstatement - no matter how small - in order to arrest him in a terror probe, a defense attorney said.
In a letter filed Friday with a Brooklyn federal judge, attorney Ron Kuby said that when his client Ahmad Afzali talked with the FBI last summer, federal agents already knew whether he had spoken with terror suspect Najibullah Zazi.
During a fast-moving series of events in September, Afzali spoke a number of times with Zazi and his father, Mohammed Zazi, and was confused when he was interrogated by the FBI about which Zazi the agents were referring to, Kuby said in an interview with Newsday.
Meanwhile, Justice Department officials on Monday, reacting to reports that some Guantánamo terror cases were destined for Brooklyn federal court, said that no final determinations have been made. Earlier in the year Newsday wrote some detainees might be tried in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
In the Afzali case, Kuby said in his letter the cleric had for years been talking with NYPD detectives about people and situations in the city's Muslim community and continued to do so in September when cops asked him to find out what Zazi was doing.
Afzali called Zazi, whom he knew from a Flushing mosque, and asked him why cops were looking for him, Kuby said. Afzali told Zazi their conversation was being monitored. "The Imam begged Zazi not to get involved with 'garbage' relating to Afghanistan and Iraq, and suggested that Zazi was probably not in too much trouble since the police 'came to the [mosque] to ask for help,' " Kuby wrote Judge Frederic Block.
Afzali got into trouble when the FBI carried out "hostile and intrusive" questioning, Kuby said. "Despite the fact that the FBI had an audiotape of Afzali's conversation with Zazi, and Afzali knew the conversation had been monitored, the FBI repeatedly demanded that Afzali tell them everything that he conveyed to Zazi," Kuby said.
Afzali was then arrested on charges he lied to the FBI when he denied mentioning certain things to Zazi or his father. Afzali is free on bond.
Afzali spoke to the FBI without a lawyer present, although court papers show he was read his Miranda warnings. Kuby said in his letter that even though the cleric thought he was working on the same side as police, an attorney could have told him that the FBI was trying to bait the "equivalent of a 'perjury trap,' " a term for a false statement illegally procured by the government.
Kuby also wrote that the NYPD and FBI didn't seem to fully understand the other's role in the investigation, which led to the arrests of Zazi and Afzali.
The NYPD and FBI have said there was no rift. The Brooklyn U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on Kuby's letter.