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Opinion: Yahya Farooq Mohammad: The plot to kill a judge

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It began with a man, Yahya Farooq Mohammad, who was facing federal charges of providing material and resource support for a known terrorist, having a discussion with a fellow inmate, and expressing his willingness to pay someone to murder a U.S. District Judge – Jack Zouhary.

From inside a prison cell in Milan, Michigan, a plot was being hatched. The plot was to kidnap and assassinate a federal court judge. It began with a man, Yahya Farooq Mohammad, who was facing federal charges of providing material and resource support for a known terrorist, having a discussion with a fellow inmate, and expressing his willingness to pay someone to murder a U.S. District Judge – Jack Zouhary. Though it is unclear how his initial conversations with the man he intended to hire for the job began, Mohammad made known that he wanted to solicit the services of a hitman for the price of $15,000.

But Mohammad, originally a citizen of India, was not alone in facing charges of supporting terrorism. He was one of a set of family members looking at a possible conviction for this crime. Brothers Ibrahim Zubair Mohammad, Sultane Roome Salim, and Asif Ahmed Salim were included in the same indictment for providing material and monetary support to a key Al Qaeda figure, Anwar Al-Awlaki.

American-born internet propagandist and terrorist Anwar Al Awlaki, a name well-known to federal authorities and who is seemingly at the heart of any number of terrorism cases, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Yet his legacy of preaching and supporting of what Awlaki himself called “violent jihad,” continues to live on in the hearts and minds of many Islamic extremists. Mohammad and his cohorts were successful in raising and delivering money to Awlaki in Yemen in 2009, though he and Mohammad never met face to face, with an amount totaling approximately $27,000.

The money, delivered to Awlaki through a courier, was intended for a number of plots to kill U.S. servicemen overseas. According to Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony, “these individuals conspired and then acted on their radical beliefs by providing support for a known terrorist organization.” However, since their indictment, six years later, Mohammad and his associates had been sitting in jail awaiting trial since 2015.

U.S. Attorney David Sievleja called Yahya Farooq Mohammad “a dangerous criminal,” and the federal prosecutor was correct indeed in his assessment. For even after Mohammad was incarceration, his intent and desire to commit murder never ceased. From a prison telephone, as reported by Eric Heisig of Cleveland.com, in April of 2017 Mohammad contacted who he believed to be a hitman. As part of their communications they worked out a code. The hitman, in turn, wanted a down payment of $1,000 to secure his services for the contract. Mohammad then offered to send the retainer through a mail carrier or suggested that the hitman could possibly meet up with his wife, an American citizen whom Mohammad married in 2008.

A meeting was set for May 3rd. The hitman and Mohammad’s wife, who would go by the insignia “N.T.,” agreed to rendezvous at a post office in Chicago, Illinois, where she would deliver the money to the hitman. As she handed the hitman his requested down payment, the supposed hired gun inquired about how and when he would receive the rest of the money for the deadly task. In line with N.T.’s initial contact with the hitman, each time she was asked a question, N.T. responded by saying she would need to check with her husband. It was likely Mohammad would want proof that the target was indeed taken care of and subsequently disposed of. As per Yahya Mohammad’s initial conversation with the hitman from prison, the suspected terrorist made it clear the job was of high priority. According to the article by Heisig, Mohammad chillingly said, “the sooner would be good, you know.”

In Mohammad’s mind the only way to avoid prosecution, and possibly being sent to prison for a maximum sentence of 35 years, was to murder Judge Zouhary. Not only was Yahya Mohammad wrong about the supposed outcome of his plan, he was wrong about the man he hired to carry out the murder. The “killer,” who Mohammad arranged payment to through his wife, was far from a hitman. The hitman was an undercover agent for the FBI, who had a plan of his own. The plan called for producing a picture of what would appear to be the dead body of Judge Jack Zouhary, in exchange for the balance of the promised $15,000, that Mohammad admitted to an inmate would have to come from Dubai, to Texas, then on to Chicago.

Neither the murder of Judge Jack Zouhary would come to pass, nor would Yahya Mohammad avoid prosecution for his crimes. The terror suspect would be forced to accept a plea deal of 27 ½ years in federal prison, and according to Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus of the Southern District of Ohio, after completion of his sentence, Mohammad had to agree to “be removed [from the U.S.] and never allowed under any conditions to return.” And in return for the lesser sentence, Mohammad would have to stand before a federal court and admit his guilt. Though his partners all pleaded not guilty to charges of providing material support for the purpose of terrorism, Mohammad’s courtroom admission has almost likely has sealed their fate as well.

Vinny