THE INFORMER: BEHIND THE SCENES, OR SETTING THE STAGE?
With tired eyes and mussed hair, Osama Eldawoody opens his door to an unexpected guest.
He doesn’t get many visitors these days. He is in hiding for his own safety. He has received no direct threats, he says, but has heard through friends of friends that there are those who want to kill him. Nobody likes a snitch.
The 51-year-old Egyptian immigrant chain-smokes Marlboros in a corner of the comfortable apartment that he now calls home, far away from his previous life in New York, in a location he wants to keep secret. This place is his hideaway but also his trap. Here, he grants his first interview since moving cross-country.
For 13 months, he was a paid informer for the New York Police Department. His work in 2003 and 2004 helped convict Shahawar Matin Siraj, a Pakistani immigrant, of conspiracy to bomb Manhattan’s 34th Street subway station. Siraj, 24, was sentenced in January to 30 years in prison, but for Eldawoody the case, now under appeal, still feels raw.
“It’s been hurting me. Everybody believes that I am a cheater,” he says.
“By Islam, by my feeling toward my country . . . it’s something that had to be done,” he says.
Siraj’s family and supporters say he was simply an angry, foolish young man with no connection to actual terrorists or capacity to obtain bombs, playing along — for a while — with a man who he believed was his closest friend. They say Eldawoody effectively goaded Siraj into plotting to plant explosives — to be supplied by Eldawoody — in the subway station, just below the Macy’s store in midtown Manhattan, and then recorded those conversations.
Police and prosecutors say Siraj was already a violent terrorist just looking for an opportunity to strike. Eldawoody says had he not intercepted Siraj, the younger man eventually would have joined a real terrorist sleeper cell.
The world of domestic Muslim informants remains fogged in secrecy and national security laws. But defense lawyers in a number of court cases paint a picture of an industry in which informants seeking personal gain create the very terrorists they are supposed to be exposing.