Emad Salem: The Man Who Risked His Life for America
By Peter Lance: In the recent annals of espionage, few men have risked more than Emad Salem. A native of Egypt who grew up with an abiding love for America, Salem rose to the rank of Major in the Egyptian Army. He was a serious player in Cairo in the 1980′s; a “go to guy” who could arrange anything for anyone from a private tour of the Pyramids of Giza to a backstage meeting with the lead belly dancer at The Hilton. He lived the Egyptian high life, counting as among his closest friends Omar Sharif, arguably the world’s most famous modern Egyptian. Then one night, as he told me in a series of exclusive interviews for PLAYBOY, he witnessed a man being tortured and the narrow “box” that he grew up in, shattered. Salem had an epiphany and soon after that he retired from the military (at the rank of Colonel) emigrating to America.
What follows are two chapters on Salem from the first book in my FBI investigative trilogy: 1000 YEARS FOR REVENGE. They detail how this remarkable man went undercover to protect his adopted country from the poisonous threat of radical Islam. In the PLAYBOY piece, I give even more details of Salem’s dangerous undercover life and the years he’s spent with his family on the run after becoming the linchpin witness in the 1995 “Day of Terror” trial which convicted nine al Qaeda terrorists along with “the Prince of Jihad,” blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman — the spiritual leader of bin Laden’s terror network. He’s pictured above with Salem. The following chapters are from 1000 Years For Revenge (copyright 2003).
CHAPTER SEVEN: A NEST OF VIPERS
It was six months after the Gulf War when Nancy Floyd walked into the lobby of the Woodward, an old Beaux Arts hotel on the corner of Broadway and 55th. Built in 1904, the Woodward had lost it luster decades before. It was now the home to low-rent tourists looking for bargain accommodations within walking distance of Times Square. The rooms didn’t exactly rent by the hour, but the Woodward was just the kind of “off Broadway” venue where an errant Russian diplomat might slip away for an assignation.
When Nancy asked the front-desk man for the head of hotel security, she was led into the office of Emad Salem, a barrel-chested forty-one-year-old Egyptian who had immigrated to New York from Cairo in 1987. On this day in August 1991 the goateed Salem was dressed impeccably in a double-breasted suit. Len Predtechenskis describes how the encounter went.
“Nancy flashed her badge and gave him her card,” said Len. “On the back Nancy wrote down the name of a Russian we were trying to find. We thought he’d slipped into the country and may have stayed at that hotel.”
Salem told Agent Floyd that he didn’t have all of the hotel records handy. He would check the guest register for the past few months and get back to her.
“Frankly, she didn’t expect to hear from him again,” said Len. “But sure enough, he got back to her in a few days. It turned out that the Russian we were after had been there, but the INS screwed up and failed to let the Bureau know he’d left the country.”
Agent Floyd was impressed that Salem had made the I.D. She was doubly surprised when he called her back a week later. “There are some more Russians here,” he said. “Would you be interested?”
“Nancy said Sure, and went back,” said Len.
“Pretty soon, this guy Emad had turned into a really good source. The chemistry between an FBI brick agent like Nancy and a source like Salem is a hard thing to define, but after he’d given her a couple of more leads that panned out, they just clicked.”
In the meantime, just as she’d done with the Russians, Nancy began to read up on Egyptians. The homework paid off-because Emad Eldin Aly Abdou Salem turned out to be a complicated figure. Like many Middle Eastern immigrants, he’d left a country where he had some professional standing, only to find disappointment in America.
In the five years since his arrival, Salem had gone through a series of menial jobs. Held been a cab driver, a clothing salesman. He’d only recently begun to move up the food chain in security, working first as a guard at retail stores like Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman, and finally getting a chance to wear plain clothes as a house detective at the Woodward.
Emad Salem had been raised for better things.
After graduating from a military technical college in Cairo in 1974, he’d risen to the rank of major in the Egyptian army, and was said to have worked in a prison for a time. His resume listed “specialized training in plastic explosives.”
Nancy took it all in. What mattered to her was whether he could deliver the intelligence he promised, and on the issues that counted-fingering Russians and other diplomats-he delivered time and time again. In the early days Salem gave Floyd a lead on an illegal ring selling bogus green cards for $2,000 apiece. He also blew the whistle on a number of illegal aliens that the INS had picked up.
“People exaggerate who they are all the time,” said an FBI source. “Salem’s wife Barbara even told him she was a doctor when they first met.” But considering the way the Egyptian had lived since he’d come to New York, Nancy knew he was no double agent.
“An intelligence agent doesn’t sit in a hotel and wait for somebody to come get them,” said the source. “They have to be pro-active. Their whole purpose is to make contact with other foreign agents so they can get intel. Salem had been in the U.S. since ’87 and never made any contact until he met Nancy.”
But the meeting with Floyd ignited a spark of ambition in Salem, who’d felt undervalued for years. His wife Barbara was quoted as saying that once, while driving a taxi, Salem had been humiliated when an angry passenger threw a two-cent tip in his face. “You have to understand,” she said, “This man had his own driver in Egypt.”
“One day Salem and Nancy were talking,” Len Predtechenskis recalled. “He said to her, ‘I known you are working Russians, but there is a man in this city, an Egyptian, who is so much more dangerous than the worst KGB hood.’”
Nancy eyed him with some skepticism. Salem had come through before, but now he was upping the stakes. Middle Eastern terrorism wasn’t even close to Nancy’s Floyd’s area of assignment.
“Another agent might have played it safe,” said Len. “Kept her head down and stayed with what she knew. But not Nancy.”
“This Egyptian,” she answered. “What’s his name?” Salem leaned forward and motioned her close. Almost in a whisper he said, “The blind Sheikh. Omar Ahmad Ali Abdel Rahman.”
The name didn’t register with Nancy, but she scribbled it down in a notebook.
“That’s R-A-C-K … ”
“No,” explained Salem. “We pronounce the Rah like a ‘k.’ You would say it like ‘Rackman.’ But you might as well write down ‘pit viper.”’ Nancy asked why and Salem explained that Sheikh Rahman was head of al Gamm’a Islamiya; an Egyptian terrorist group. He was currently preaching at two mosques in Brooklyn, and at the Masjid ai-Salaam in Jersey City.
“This means ‘the mosque of peace,’” said Salem. “But there is no peace in this place.”
Nancy Floyd- the Texan who had dreamed of joining the Bureau to “put away bad guys”-was intrigued. Until now, for all her effort, the most she’d accomplished was getting a few diplomats deported. Now her Egyptian source was talking about a man associated with the death of Anwar Sadat.
“He’s here in New York, you’re saying?” Salem nodded.
“And he’s dangerous?”
Salem nodded. “He is blind in one eye, with the pupil missing. The other eye is an empty socket. But the Sheikh sees all.”
Salem smiled. After months in a mind-numbing hotel job, he was anxious to show what he knew. He took Nancy into his office and gave her a crash course on the Afghan War, the Services Office network, and the murder of Mustafa Shalabi. From what he had heard, the local police never even questioned the Sheikh in the homicide.
“That is the power of this man,” said Salem.
“Wherever he goes, there are bodies. I tell you, the Sheikh and his followers … It’s a nest of vipers.”
“Nancy was knocked out,” says Len. “She came to see me right after that and asked what I thought she should do. I told her to bring it to the guys who worked the U.N. See if they knew any of these players.”
So Nancy Floyd approached a pair of agents in her own Foreign Counter Intelligence Division on the twenty-fifth floor at 26 Federal Plaza. These agents dealt strictly with Egyptian diplomats who might be engaged in espionage under U.N. diplomatic cover.
A source close to the meeting said that the agents decided to give Salem a test. “We just had this new Egyptian officer come in through the Diplomatic Service at the U.N.,” one of the agents told Nancy. “We think maybe he’s an intel officer, but we can’t get our finger on him. Do you think your boy Salem could take a look at him and let us know?” Nancy said she would see what she could do.
She met with Salem the next day. “Listen, it’s not that I’m trying to get you to do anything against Egypt,” she said, “but they need to know if this guy is actually a diplomatic corps person or actually-”
“A spy,” Salem said, smiling. “This I will do for you.”
Nancy took out the man’s picture and gave Salem the name she’d received from the two agents. Immediately, Salem shot back, “I know this man. He’s absolutely a spy and he works for the CIA.”
Nancy did a double take. If Salem was right, there would be repercussions: the CIA was forbidden by statute to operate “assets” inside the United States.
A week later, the FBI Egyptian agents called Nancy in to a meeting.
“They were floored,” said a source who knew what happened. “Not only was Salem accurate, but the information he gave allowed the Bureau agents to shut down an illegal Company operation.”
The agents from the Egyptian counter-intelligence branch suggested that Nancy bring this newly discovered asset to the attention of one of their agents, who was attempting to infiltrate Middle Eastern terrorist groups. He was located two floors below, in the Joint Terrorist Task Force.
“What’s his name?” asked Nancy.
“Anticev,” said one of the agents. “His partner’s a cop named Napoli.” Given what they knew about Nosair, Abouhalima, and the blind Sheikh, FBI agent John Anticev and NYPD Det. Lou Napoli jumped when Nancy Floyd dangled Emad Salem as a possible source.
“Let’s meet the guy,” said Lou. “See if he’s for real. ”
Right away, Nancy arranged a meeting at Juanita’s, a now-defunct Mexican restaurant on the Upper East Side.
“Salem basically blew them out of the water,” said a source who attended the meeting. “He had beaucoups of information.
“First of all, Salem said, ‘I can’t believe you allowed Sheikh Rahman in here. He spends ten years in our prisons. His people killed my beloved President Sadat. If the man is here, he’s doing nothing but bad.”
Anticev and Napoli eyed Salem. They decided to test him with a name.
“Mahmud Abouhalima,” said Napoli.
“Cab driver,” the Egyptian shot back. “Big guy. Six two or three. Born with Crusader’s blood.”
“What’s that mean?” asked Napoli.
“You know,” said Salem. “He is redhead-mixed. A fierce Mujahad. He fought the Russians. Now he drives the Sheikh around.”
Anticev and Napoli traded looks. Salem had described their man to a tee.
“Bingo,” said Anticev in a muffled voice. He and Napoli had been stalled for months; Salem might well be the answer.
After the meeting at Juanita’s, the agent and the detective regrouped with Nancy and asked if she could convince Salem to go undercover. Floyd said she wasn’t sure. The Egyptian was making $500 a week at the hotel. He was in the process of getting a divorce from Rogers, his second wife. He’d met a German jewelry designer with a big apartment on the West Side and already moved in with her. Salem needed a steady income.
“With Nosair’s trial coming up, we could use somebody on the inside,” said Napoli.
Nancy nodded. “I’m not sure he’ll work with y’all.” “Why not?” asked Napoli.
“The trust that’s between him and me,” she said. “I might be able to talk him into going under, but I’m GRU and my supervisor’s not gonna let me go. So how do we work this?”
“Ask him first,” said Anticev. “We’ll cross that bridge. ”
So Nancy agreed. It wasn’t a very hard sell. If there was ever an eager subject it was Emad Salem. Dangerous as the assignment was, he’d been pining away in backend jobs, waiting for a chance to regain some of the prestige he’d enjoyed as an officer in the Egyptian army.
“He was an individual who saw an opportunity for fame,” said Napoli, “being known as someone who took down the blind Sheikh.”
Assuming they could work out the salary, Salem told Nancy he was ready. He would leave his hotel day job and try to infiltrate the Sheikh’s cell. The Bureau agreed to match his weekly paycheck so that he could work undercover full time. “Salem loved this stuff,” said a source close to the operation. “He got five hundred a week, the same pay as his hotel salary. But it wasn’t about the money.”
“He did it for the glory,” said Napoli. “A chance to put this Sheikh away who had done so much harm in his country.”
Salem agreed to go undercover, but he had one crucial condition: he didn’t want his identity disclosed.
“He was fearful,” Napoli recalled. “In no way, shape or form did he want to be in a position where his undercover activities against the Sheikh would be known.
He was also afraid for his ex-wife and two children back home. He didn’t want his family to be the recipient of any fallout in Egypt.”
Salem told Floyd and Napoli that he’d be willing to wear a wire if he they could promise he’d never have to appear in open court. But they had to be honest with him. “We said, if you’re wired we cannot guarantee that somewhere down the line you won’t have to testify,” said Napoli. So the FBI agreed to use Salem purely as an intelligence “asset.” If he developed information that a crime was about to be committed, agents would then move in and do the necessary surveillance to make a case.
There was a long tradition in the Bureau of maintaining such assets. For decades during the Cold War, Morris Childs, an executive in the Communist
Party USA, operated as an FBI double agent, informing on the CPUSA and infiltrating the highest levels of the Soviet Government. To the FBI he was known simply as Agent 58. His asset code designation was CG-5824S*. The asterisk meant that he was a source who would never be called upon to blow his cover and testify. From 1952 to 1997 Childs made fifty-two dangerous missions to Moscow and was never suspected.
Even on the criminal side of the Bureau there had been dozens of confidential informants over the years, who had infiltrated ongoing criminal enterprises from the Ku Klux Klan to the Gambino family.
To keep them from having to testify and risk exposure, there was wide body of case law, beginning with the landmark Supreme Court case Rovario vs. the United States in 1957.
Rovario held that the word of a “reliable informant” was sufficient to grant agents or police officers probable cause to obtain search, arrest, or wiretap warrants without having to name the CI in open court. Given Salem’s earlier exposure of the CIA’s Egyptian asset, and the number of INS green card arrests he’d been responsible for, he c1ea~IY met the reliability test.
At that time in 1991, the Terrorism branch Anticev and Napoli worked for had no immediate supervisor or an ASAC in charge, so the deal was approved by Jim Sherman, Nancy’s supervisor for her GRU work, and his boss, an ASAC named Jack Lowe. Salem would work as an asset of the Foreign Counter Intelligence Branch, with Nancy Floyd as his salary contact and Napoli and Anticev the formal case agents who would process his intel.
He would not wear a wire to record his dealings with the members of Sheikh Rahman’s cell. His role would be one of pure intelligence, to warn the FBI of any potential terrorist threats from the Sheikh or his followers.
“We told him to start hanging out at the Nosair trial,” said a source close to the operations. “We wanted to see if he had the ability to get close to them. We had given him six weeks to get under. He did it in two days.”
THE NEAR MISS
If the NYPD and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office had wanted to avoid a politically charged show trial by holding to the lone-gunman theory, the plan backfired. For days, as Nosair’s murder trial unfolded, demonstrators for both sides stood in the streets outside the Manhattan Criminal Court Building flinging invective at each other.
“Death to Nosair,” chanted a group of JDL supporters and Hasidic Jews on one side. “Allah-uAkhbar” (“God is Great”), chanted the Egyptians on the other, shaking defiant fists behind their set of barricades. Ironically, the object of the protests, Nosair, had worked as a maintenance man in the basement of 111 Center Street, just across the street from the trial site.
Upstairs, in the 13th floor courtroom, 72-year-old William Kunstler and Nosairls co-counsel Michael Warren, a tall black Muslim, spun a conspiracy tale for the jury. Rabbi Kahane had been killed, they contended, by divisive factions in his own fractured JDL organization.
Without the forty-seven boxes of evidence seized from Nosairls house suggesting a broader terrorist plot, the defense pounded away on the lack of forensic evidence.
For one thing, there hadnlt been an autopsy.
Orthodox Jewish law forbade the evisceration of bodies after death, and with the cause of death obvious, the City’s Chief Medical Examiner bowed to pressure from Hasidic leaders and released Kahane’s body for burial without the usual post mortem.
Since autopsies in homicides are virtually mandatory, the defense seized on the break from routine to create doubt in the jury’s mind. Also, the prosecution was unable to prove that Nosair had actually fired the .357 magnum. His prints weren’t on the gun, and there was no evidence that paraffin tests tying him to the revolver had been performed. There was even conflicting testimony on how many shots were fired, and evidence suggesting JDL members at the death scene were also armed.
“Even though there was a smoking gun, it was not positively identifiable,” said an alternate juror after the verdict.
Soon after the start of the trial, Salem worked his way into the crowd of Egyptians outside court. Like most successful undercover assets, his greatest liability was also his strength-in this case, Salem’s ability to lie convincingly about his background.
As an Egyptian army veteran he didn’t have to veer very far from the truth, incorporating the real elements of his personal life into his new undercover persona.
On his second day among the protesters, Salem introduced himself to Nosair’s cousin Ibrahim EI-Gabrowny. “I told him I was a jeweler,” Salem recalled later. “I told him that I lived in Manhattan and I can manage my time by myself. I am here to support Mr. Sayyid Nosair.”
There was some truth to the story: Salem’s new girlfriend, Karin Goodlive (whom he later married) ran a growing jewelry business out of the apartment they shared on Broadway a nd 86th Street.
Meanwhile, Salem presented himself as earnest, and willing to do whatever it took to free “brother Nosair.” He quickly offered to print labels and stuff envelopes for the accused assassin’s defense fund. On that second day, EI-Gabrowny embraced Salem and told him, “It’s good to have a brother like you to help EI Sayyid.”
Almost before he got started, though, Salem’s cover was nearly blown after a chance meeting outside court with Anticev and Napoli. The Egyptians regularly chatted up the Feds as they passed in and out of the building; it was their way of keeping tabs on “the enemy.” Now, during one of the breaks between court sessions, unaware of Salem’s relationship with the Bureau, Nosair’s cousin EI-Gabrowny introduced him to the FBI agent and the cop.
“Brother Emad, he is one of the good brothers,” EIGabrowny told them. Then he joked, “Why don’t you find me a job with you guys?” Anticev and Napoli traded looks. There was a moment of awkwardness, until Salem made a joke to cut the tension.
“I am ex-Army,” he said. “Explosives expert. Why don’t you find me a job as well?”
Suddenly, EI-Gabrowny squeezed Salem’s shoulder. He excused himself and pushed the informant far enough way so that the agent and the cop couldn’t hear him. Glaring at Salem, EI-Gabrowny said, “Are you crazy? Telling the FBI that you are an explosives expert?”
“What’s wrong with that?” asked Salem. “I am U.S. citizen. It’s a free country.”
“But now they’re going to monitor you,” growled EIGabrowny. “They are going to spot you, and if something happens they will come to pick you up first.”
At this point Abouhalima, the Red jumped in. The man whose apartment Anticev and Napoli had searched, posing as Con Ed workers, had been followed by the Feds for some time “You watch them,” he said. “They are always on us. If you are not careful, they will try and recruit you as a spy.” Looming over the smaller Salem, he boasted, “Anticev and the cop used to surveil me. I used to drive my car all the way to Connecticut, go to a coffee shop, drive back-drive them crazy behind me all the way home.” Abouhalima stabbed at Salem’s chest with his big index finger. “Do you understand? They are watching me. They will watch you. They will try and get you to turn.” He stabbed at him again.
Emad swallowed hard, but kept a smile on his face. “Never,” said the FBI informant. “Never could they get me to inform on my brothers.” He eyed EIGabrowny and Abouhalima to see if they’d bought his explanation. There was a moment’s hesitation; then the Red gave him a bear hug.
Emad Salem said a private prayer of thanks to Allah that he hadn’t been wired.
“Pretty soon EI-Gabrowny had invited Emad home for dinner,” recalled an FBI source. “He was in like Flynn. After that, he was acting almost like the Sheikh’s personal bodyguard. Louie and John had been trying to get a line on this guy for so long and now they had somebody in the inner circle. To them this was the mother lode.”
A few weeks later, when the stunning verdict was announced, Salem became the FBI’s last best hope.
CHAPTER EIGHT BLOOD IN THE CITY
On December 7th, 1991, though found guilty of lesser charges, EI Sayyid Nosair was acquitted of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s murder. Even the estimable William Kunstler, his lead defense attorney, was caught off guard. When the Saturday night verdict was announced, Kunstler rushed down to the courthouse to find JDL demonstrators holding a mock electric chair and screaming “Jewish blood isn’t cheap.”
A mini riot broke out on Center Street. “You pig,” yelled one of the Hasidim. Another exhorted “Kahane Chai” (“Kahane lives”), shaking a placard demanding a federal trial. On the other side of the police barricades, Mahmud Abouhalima hoisted Kunstler up on his shoulders, while Nosair’s cousin EIGabrowny and his newfound friend Emad Salem chanted, “Allah-u-Akhbar! Allah-u-Akhbar!”
The next day the exuberant supporters slaughtered three lambs and held a celebration party on the second floor of the Abu Bakr mosque in Brooklyn. Dressed in jeans, a plaid shirt, and a red ascot, Emad Salem sat among them and ate. Noticing that one of the followers had a video camera, he offered to take over while the man ate. Zooming in on the faces, Salem shot Abouhalima and his brother Mohammed, another big redhead. He shot footage of EI-Gabrowny, Siddig Ali, and Mohammed Salameh, captured against a wall in a green sweater picking his nose.
That night Salem offered to make copies of the tape for the congregation. He quickly handed it off to Nancy Floyd, and the FBI made the duplicates. If Napoli and Anticev needed any reassurance that Abouhalima and Salameh were card-carrying members of the Nosair cell, here was proof in living color. Salem had taken a risk by volunteering to shoot at the mosque, and a greater risk in spiriting the tape out for duplication by the FBI. But the post-verdict video was a major intelligence coup for the Bureau, and another vindication of Nancy Floyd’s asset.
In the meantime, while Nosair’s acquittal on the murder charge was a tactical victory for the cell, the celebration at Abu Bakr obscured the fact that “brother Sayyid” had been found guilty of gun possession, and charges of assault on postal inspector Carlos Acosta, the elderly Irving Franklin, and cab driver Franklin Garcia. At trial the cabbie admitted on the stand that when Nosair pressed “something cold and hard” to the back of his head, he got so scared he “make wet” in his pants.
Now, at sentencing, Judge Alvin Schlesinger declared that the not guilty homicide verdict “defied reason.” He socked Nosair with the maximum for the lesser charges: seven and a third to twenty-two years. He would be sent to Attica, one of the starkest prisons in the New York system. But Nosair-a radical whold kept cyanide in his locker in the basement of the court building where held worked-would be eligible for parole in six years.
By early 1992, Rudolph Giuliani, who had made his reputation busting organized crime families as U.S. attorney, was gearing up to run for mayor. But if the full truth were known, Nosair’s cell posed a much greater threat to the city than the Colombos, the Genoveses, or the Gambinos at the height of their power.
The stunning “Ione gunman” miscalculation and the screwups over the evidence seized from Nosair’s house, had left the Feds reeling. The FBI retrieved the forty-odd boxes from the 17th Precinct and the current U.S. Attorney, Otto Obermaier, pledged to review requests by Jewish leaders that the Justice Department bring a civil rights charge against Nosair in the rabbi’s murder. Given the evidence problems, though, any prosecution would be problematic.
At this point, in February 1992, Napoli and Anticev had identified Nosair as a member of al Gammala Islamiya (IG) , the radical Egyptian hate group which the blind Sheikh led.
The IG was Egypt’s largest Islamic militant organization. After assassinating the speaker of Egypt’s parliament in 1990, the group tried to kill President Hosnl Mubarak in a 1995 limousine ambush, and went on to slaughter fifty-eight European tourists in 1997. The fact that the FBI had linked Kahane’s killer to such a violent terror group five years earlier is evidence of how deep his roots went in the dangerous new jihad that was directed at America. Jamal al-Fadl, the Sudanese informant, would later testify that al Gammala Islamiya was directly tied to Osama bin Laden’s terror network. But at the time Nosair’s association with the group, and its link to al Qaeda, was another unconnected dot on the line of evidence heading toward 9/11.
“There was a cell structure here, and the other individuals [Abouhalima and Salameh] were part of the cell structure,” said Napoli. “It was obvious that there were a lot more people involved with the Kahane bullshit than the P.D. said. We felt there was a lot more, and we started to investigate that.”
But the linchpin of their probe was Nancy Floyd’s recruited asset, Emad Salem. With no other sources who came close to his level of access, Anticev and Napoli had to wait on the sidelines to see if he could deliver. Fortunately for them, Salem was getting deeper into the cell-so deep that soon the Sheikh himself would ask him to commit murder.
Within days of penetrating the inner circle around the Nosair defense, Salem was acting as Abdel Rahman’s chauffeur. Having quit his job at the hotel to work full-time for the Bureau, he got wind that the Sheik was planning to attend an Islamic conference in Detroit. Salem offered to supply his five-passenger Pontiac for the trip.
“It is small,” said the Sheikh. “You said you are a jeweler. Can you get us something bigger? We are going to be six. Can you get us a van?” Salem smiled. “I can get you a van, sir.” The FBI gladly provided one.
On the way to Detroit, Salem turned on the radio. Suddenly, music erupted from a pop station. The Sheikh quickly pronounced it “satanic,” and ordered that they play tapes of the Koran instead. Salem, who rarely attended mosque, faked a smile.
“Not a problem.” The tapes played for the next sixteen hours.
At one point Salem took a break from driving. He was about to move to the shotgun seat when the Sheikh asked that he sit beside him. Rahman inquired about Salem’s military service, and wondered aloud if Salem had any experience with explosives. Salem mentioned that he had fought in the Egyptian army against Israel in the 1973 war. That would make him “a good Mujahad,” or holy warrior. “I did my part in jihad,” said Salem proudly.
But the Sheikh snapped back. “No. You are not a Mujahadeen, because fighting for an infidel government is not jihad. To do a jihad means you should do work without getting paid. You do it for God’s sake.” The Sheikh winced at him.
“How can I make up with God?” asked Salem, playing the role.
“By turning your rifle’s barrel to President Mubarak’s chest, and kill him,” said Rahman.
Salem almost couldn’t believe it. He’d only been undercover a short time, and now here was the central target of his investigation challenging him to murder a head of state. In the Sheikh’s view, Mubarak was little more than “a loyal dog to the Americans.” The bitter cleric described the u.s. as “a snake” with two tails: Egypt and Israel.
Salem was beginning to understand what a “nest of vipers” he’d walked into.
When they arrived at the hotel in Detroit, one of the Sheikh’s followers, Hamdi Moussa, questioned Salem suspiciously about why he’d brought along a camera. Emad quickly responded, “I know it’s a lecture. I should take pictures with the Sheikh.” But the wily Moussa snapped “Nobody will take pictures of the Sheikh.”
That night at the hotel the Sheikh laid out the sleeping arrangements. Salem slept on the floor, with the suspicious Moussa close by. The next morning, Emad felt his heart pound when he discovered that somebody had gone through his wallet during the night.
Later, Salem came to understand the Sheikh’s power to raise money. At just one of the mosques, Salem and the other followers were directed to stand outside the door. After the blind cleric had held forth, they collected seven to eight thousand dollars.
The Detroit trip proved to be an eye-opener for Salem. The Sheikh’s fatwa on Mubarak, and the volume of cash raised along the way, gave him anextraordinary inside view of a cell that had violent plans for New York and the rest of the world.
“Emad lived this life,” said a Bureau source. “He knew what to say to these people. He knew how to dress~ How to present himself. There’s no question. He was in.”
Now, in media coverage of Sheikh Rahman, news organizations like the New York Times and ABC News photographed a man thought to be the Sheikhls new bodyguard. He was everywhere-on Rahman’s arm, protecting him from crowds, helping him in and out of his van, even arranging press briefings. It was Emad Salem.
The FBI asset couldn’t wait to tell the agents about the Sheikh’s assassination fatwa, and the other intel he was getting from his regular visits to Abdel Rahmam’s mosques in Brooklyn and Jersey City. But according to a source deep inside the investigation, there was a problem.
“John and Louie were supposed to be meeting him,” said the source. “Salem wasn’t wearing a wire, and he needed get rid of this information quicker. It was all in hi~ head. But he could never get hold of Anticev or Napoli. Their idea was to meet him every week or ten days.”
So, faced with the need to download the intelligence, Salem turned to Nancy Floyd. She ended up working in the Bureau’s Foreign Counter Intelligence GRU squad by day and then meeting Salem at night. They usually had dinner at a TGI Friday’s on Broadway near 26 Federal Plaza. Nancy would debrief him over dinner, then go bac~ upstairs and write up her notes in the form of FBI serials to Salem’s asset file.
Each report began with his designated New York office number and the code #134, indicating that he was an intelligence asset. At the top of each serial Floyd assessed Salem’s reliability based on the evidence he was continuing to furnish.
“Nancy was working double duty,” said Len Predtechenskis, the senior agent who was her mentor in FCI. “Working all hours, debriefing Salem, driving home to Stamford [Connecticut] where she lived, then back in thel morning where she’d put in a full day in GRU. But the longer it got, the more pissed off her supervisor was becoming, because Nancy was spending too much time working something that had nothing to do with the Russians and GRU.”
Floyd finally complained to Napoli. “You have got to start writing this stuff up. Emad is telling me he couldn’t get with you.”
Napoli denies that he was inaccessible. “During the time Emad was working [undercover] I had a cell phone,” the detective contends. “The reason why he was calling her was that at times he felt he wasn’t getting anywhere with us. Salem wanted to do things his way.”
But a source close to the investigation said Napoli was often unavailable on the nights Salem needed debriefing.
“Louie would complain that his kid had a play or something like that,” said the source. “He’d make excuses. But when somebody is undercover you have to be answerable; especially with something like this. Given the violence surrounding the Sheikh, Salem was in danger every minute he stayed inside.”
At one point a lawyer asked Salem if he was paranoid. The undercover informant nodded and tasted the acid in this throat. “Sir, since I got involved in this .. . I’m always paranoid.”
Almost every night Salem would listen to the Sheikh’s lectures after the evening call to prayer. Though Rahman’s primary venue was the dingy AISalaam mosque in Jersey City, Salem began to frequent the Abu Bakr and AI Farouq mosques in Brooklyn where
the cleric also lectured. After each prayer session a dozen of the faithful would surround the Sheikh as he sat in a white jalabiyah under the red and white velvet hat that was the sign of his rank as an imam from alAzhar University.
“The Jihad is our only path,” said the Sheikh, his disfigured eyes turned upward. Around him sat Mahmud Abouhalima, Mohammed Salameh, and Nosair’s cousin EI-Gabrowny, the contractor. Salem, the FBI’s asset, sat on the Sheikh’s right arm. Also present on many such occasions was Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a U.S. postal worker and Ahmed Amin Refai, the accountant who worked for the New York City Fire Department.
Refai and Sattar were among the many middleclass Egyptian immigrants who had gravitated to the Sheikh’s inner circle. Refai himself sometimes walked arm in arm with the Sheikh. During the cleric’s sermons, Salem and the others would close their eyes and listen as the Sheikh lashed out. His sermons sounded more like calls to battle than prayers.
“The laws of God are usurped by Crusaders laws,” warned the Sheikh. “The hand of a thief is not cut off, the drinker of liquor, not whipped. The adulterer is not stoned. Islamic holy law should be followed to the letter. Against them make ready your strength. Fight to the utmost of your power.” Salem nodded piously as the Sheikh admonished them:
“Mount steeds of war. Strike terror into the enemies of Islam.”
Concerned about what might be in the works, Salem slipped out early on one of these evenings. He took the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel into Lower Manhattan and drove up Church Street toward the FBI office at 26 Federal Plaza.
Glancing behind him to make sure he hadn’t been followed, Salem turned east on Chambers Street. He pulled his car to the curb near Broadway and got out. Looking left, then right, he stood in the shadows for a moment, making sure he was completely alone. This late, the street was deserted. Finally, he went to a pay phone.
Three blocks north, the phone on the desk of Det. Lou Napoli rang and rang. By now, Emad had almost given up trying to reach the detective in a hurry. He would leave messages, and Napoli would eventually get back to him. But tonight Salem had left the mosque with a sense of urgency, so when Napoli failed to pick up he dialed Nancy Floyd.
As she was most nights, the agent was at her desk catching up on GRU paperwork.
“Nancy used to joke that she would work past the hour when the rats came out,” said a source who knew her well. “She wasn’t kidding. 26 Federal Plaza had been built on landfill in Lower Manhattan, and there were sewer rats in the walls. At night, when everybody left, they would come out and scurry across the floor.”
Now, when Nancy’s phone rang, she picked up right away. Emad sounded worried.
“I just got out of there. The man is rabid.”
“Wait a second,” said Nancy, grabbing a pen to take notes. “What’s going on?”
“The ones at the mosque are planning something,” said Salem, sounding concerned. “They want me to go to Attica to see Nosair.”
“What do you think it is?” asked Nancy, writing it all down.
“I don’t know, but tonight the Sheikh talked like he was ready to go to war … I want you to hear this-I have one of his tapes.” Salem slipped a cassette of one of the Sheikh’s packaged sermons into a small recorder and held the speaker up to the phone. As Nancy Floyd leaned forward with the receiver, she heard a strained high-pitched voice in Arabic. Then Salem began to translate.
“Hit hard and kill the enemies of God in every spot, to rid it of the descendants of apes and pigs fed at the tables of Zionism, communism, and imperialism.” He stopped the tape. On the other end of the phone, Nancy Floyd sucked in hard. ‘Jesus. What do you think they’re going to do?”
“I don’t know,” said Salem. “Ibrahim [EIGabrowny] had me to his house for dinner. He turned up the TV thinking maybe FBI is bugging him.
“Then he asked me if I can build bombs. I mention Molotov cocktails, and he said ‘No, we need high powered explosives.’”
Nancy took furious notes. “Is there anything specific in the works?” she asked. Salem told her no. “Maybe I will know more when I meet EI Sayyid up at the prison. But I will tell you this right now-the death of the Rabbi was just the beginning for them. They are bold now. And if we don’t stop them … there will be blood in this city.”
© 2003 By Peter Lance
LINK TO EMAD SALEM’S WEBSITE