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RABBI AVI WEISS - SUING THE FBI - Rabbi Targeted by Sheik Rahman Terror Group for Death F.B.I. Withheld the Information for More than Half Year

Article by Helen Freedman
Senior Staff Writer
Photo by: Robert Kalfus

Did the FBI have information as far back as 1986 that Rabbi Meir Kahane had been targeted by Arab terrorists as a "suitable candidate" for murder? If so, was it not their obligation and legal responsibility to inform the Rabbi of the impending danger to him? Might warning him have prevented his being killed at a New York hotel in 1990? These questions have prompted Rabbi Avi Weiss to take preemptive action against the FBI.

Weiss, an internationally recognized advocate of Jewish causes and national president of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha, filed a suit in federal court in Washington, D.C., against FBI Director Louis Freeh for the FBI's failure to warn him that he was the potential target of the Sheikh Rahman terrorist group (Rahman Group) which bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.

Although the FBI learned from a credible informant in June, l994 that Rabbi Weiss' name had been mentioned on two occasions by members of the terrorist group as "suitable candidate" for assassination, the FBI suppressed this information and did not inform Rabbi Weiss of his endangered status until January, 1995, when it appeared that his name might come up in testimony at the conspiracy trial currently underway in New York City.

Rabbi Weiss says he has no way of knowing whether the FBI now possesses information that he is a potential target of terrorists. He maintains that the judgment of whether or not he is or was in personal danger is one he alone is entitled to make. He seeks a court order declaring that the FBI breached its legal duty under the Constitution and federal law to advise him of the information it had received concerning him, as well as an injunction preventing the defendants from suppressing information that they currently have or may receive in the future from any credible source that he has been discussed as a potential target of violence.

A primary source of information about the Rahman Group's plans was group member Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali, who named Rabbi Weiss, along with others as a "suitable candidate" for violence. Although Ali was a credible source, the FBI did not disclose this information to Rabbi Weiss and suppressed it for seven months.

When Rabbi Weiss was finally informed in January 1995 by an FBI agent that the bureau had this information in its possession, he was extremely upset and south an apology and a commitment by the FBI that such suppression would never again occur. According to sections 19 and 20 of the Civil Action Complaint, Rabbi Weiss met with William Gavin, then Deputy Director in charge of the FBI's New York office, on January 23, 1995; at this meeting Gavin apologized for the FBI's failure to advise Rabbi Weiss that he had been targeted as a potential victim and assured the Rabbi that he would assume personal responsibility for ensuring that such an error did not recur.

On January 25, two days after the meeting, Gavin announced his resignation as Director of FBI's New York office. As Gavin had not mentioned his plan to resign in his meeting with Rabbi Weiss, his action seems to contradict the spirit of the January 23 meeting.

Rabbi Weiss next wrote a letter to FBI Director Freeh seeking assurance that he -- and other Jewish leaders -- would be warned of future threats. Director Freeh answered Rabbi Weiss' letter by asserting that the FBI behaved appropriately, since Rabbi Weiss had not been at risk at the time Ali told agents of Rabbi Weiss' status. "Our purpose was not to warn you that your personal safety was at risk from a terrorist group." wrote Freeh, "and indeed that was not the case."

Following the Rahman Group's 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the FBI conducted an investigation of the conspirators who planned the bombing and at that time they learned of other acts of violence the group had planned to perform. For example, the group conspired to assassinate Rabbi Meir Kahane, who will killed in 1990 in New York. The group also had planned a wave of urban terror in New York that included blowing up major bridges and tunnels.

At the May 3 press conference at Lincoln Square called by Rabbi Weiss and his Washington-based attorney, Nathan Lewis, a nationally recognized Constitutional expert, copies of the Complaint for Mandamus, Declaratory Judgment and Injunction were distributed. Rabbi Weiss spoke briefly about his concerns in the case, stressing that after Rabbi Kahane's murder, the FBI should have taken the threat against Weiss' life very seriously.

Weiss and Lewis stressed that they are not seeking any money or damages from the FBI. They believe that the FBI's duty to inform a potential victim of violence is a ministerial duty that is not subject to the exercise of discretion. The withholding of such information put at risk the Rabbi's life, as well as the lives of his family, is friends, his congregants and his associates.

Rabbi Weiss says that it is his concern for Jewish leaders who are at risk, and about whom the FBI may yet be suppressing information, that has prompted his law suit. He hopes that as a result of the suit "the FBI will disclose to every identified potential target in the Jewish community the fact that he or she has been named as a target, and identity of those who, according to the information in the FBI; possession, intend to do him harm."


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