Prosecutors detail decapitation plot, a change in plans
Say slain man, nephew planned to behead police officers; authorities show community leaders video of shooting in effort to dispel rumors
Usaama Rahim had been plotting for days, officials said. He bought three long-bladed fighting knives — “good for carving,” he said — and confided to his nephew and another man that he would travel to another state to commit a beheading.
But at 5 a.m. Tuesday, the plan abruptly changed, according to a federal affidavit. Rahim would murder police officers in Massachusetts.
“I’m just going to, ah, go after them, those boys in blue,” Rahim allegedly told his nephew David Wright, in a phone call recorded by an anti-terrorism task force.
Two hours later, when members of that task force approached him in a Roslindale parking lot, Rahim allegedly brandished one of his military knives. They told him to drop his weapon. “You drop yours,” he allegedly replied, before a Boston Police officer and an FBI agent shot him to death.
The details emerged as Wright, Rahim’s nephew and alleged conspirator, appeared in federal court on a charge that he obstructed the investigation by encouraging his uncle to destroy his cellphone to hide evidence.
In a loud, clear voice, Wright told US Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelley that he understood the charges he faces and his rights, and that he did not need a court-appointed lawyer. He also told investigators “he agreed with Rahim’s plan and supported it,” according to a court affidavit.
A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation said additional terrorism charges may be brought against Wright.
Earlier Wednesday, Boston, federal, and Suffolk County law enforcement officials met with Muslim, Christian, and civil rights leaders to show them video surveillance of the encounter, which comes at a time of national concern about police shootings of black men.
The meeting and showing of the video also aimed to dispel an account on social media from Rahim’s brother, who is an imam, that Rahim had been shot in the back while talking to his father on a cellphone.
“What the video does reveal to us very clearly is that the individual was not on a cellphone. The individual was not shot in the back,” Darnell Williams, president of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, said at a press conference following the viewing, which was closed to the media. “What we expected was transparency, and that transparency was given. We were very comfortable with what we saw.”
Muslim leaders, however, declared the video “inconclusive,” pointing out that it was grainy and distant, and that the officers and Rahim appeared only as silhouettes, without visible weapons.
“I don’t think he was shot in the back,” said Imam Abdullah Faaruuq, of the Roxbury-based Mosque for the Praising of Allah, who said he knows the Rahim family well. “However, we couldn’t see clearly at all whether he was brandishing a knife or not. . . . We cannot be clear as to what transpired.”
The surveillance footage shows Rahim crossing the parking lot of the shopping center on Washington Street, headed toward the sidewalk from the Dunkin’ Donuts at the back of the lot, said the Reverend Mark V. Scott, associate pastor at Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester, who viewed the footage.
As Rahim neared the sidewalk, walking casually, three task force members approached him. They did not appear to have their guns drawn, Scott said, and they were walking calmly.
They reached Rahim at the front of the parking lot near the sidewalk, and for a moment, Rahim was obscured from view because he was behind a bush, Scott said. But the officers suddenly began backing up quickly, crouching slightly, he said, and then Rahim can be seen advancing toward them. Two other task force members rushed over, Scott said, and then Rahim fell.
Rahim appeared to advance until he was shot, Scott said.
Officials said they hope to release the surveillance video to the public soon, after the Rahim family has seen it. One of Rahim’s brothers came to Boston Police headquarters on Wednesday, but did not view the tape. He declined to speak with reporters.
Also Wednesday, CNN reported that political activist Pamela Geller was the target of the original beheading plot. Reached by the Globe, Geller declined to say whether law enforcement had told her about the alleged plan. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Geller drew national attention last month after two men opened fire at an event she hosted in Garland, Texas, where people were invited to present cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Law enforcement officials shot and killed both men.
“They targeted me for violating Sharia blasphemy laws and they need to kill everyone who doesn’t do their bidding,” Geller said. “This is a showdown for American freedom.”
In Washington, at the start of a congressional hearing on terrorism, a Texas representative referred to Rahim and his shooting, and suggested the Boston man had a link to the Islamic State.
“Yesterday in Boston, reports are emerging that Mr. Rahim, who was killed by federal law enforcement officers after lunging at them with a knife, was being investigated by the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force after communicating with and spreading ISIS propaganda on line.
“Known associates of Mr. Rahim are also being arrested as we speak,” said US Representative Michael McCaul, a Republican. “These cases are a reminder of the dangers posed by individuals radicalized through social media.”
A spokeswoman for McCaul said Wednesday night she was “not at liberty” to disclose the source of McCaul’s information.
In court, Assistant US Attorney Stephanie Siegmann asked that Wright be held without bail until a hearing scheduled for June 19.
“The defendant poses a serious risk of flight,” Siegmann said. “There is a serious risk the defendant will obstruct justice, or attempt to obstruct justice.”
Wright’s relatives declined to comment outside the courthouse. Wright’s defense attorney, Jessica Hedges, urged the officials investigating the case to be transparent.
“And in enforcing the law, abide by the law,” Hedges said. “We have serious concerns about that already.”
Hedges did not offer details about what sparked her concerns.
The affidavit filed in Wright’s case outlines the planning that went into the alleged beheading plot, which the affidavit said began at the end of May. A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation, however, said Rahim had been under investigation for much longer.
Rahim allegedly bought an Ontario Spec Plus Marine Raider Bowie fighting knife with a nearly 10-inch blade on May 25, and the next day told Wright that, “I just got myself a nice little tool,” according to the affidavit. Authorities were monitoring his communications.
“It’s good for carving wood and like, you know, carving sculptures . . . and you know . . .” Rahim allegedly said to Wright in a phone call, before both men laughed.
Rahim then told Wright about his alleged plan to behead a person in another state. Later in the same conversation, Rahim referred to “thinking with your head on your chest” — a phrase that the affidavit described as referring to the practice of some foreign terrorist organizations of beheading victims and placing their heads on their chests in propaganda videos.
Around May 27, according to the affidavit, Rahim allegedly bought two more fighting knives.
Rahim, Wright, and a third person met May 31 on a Rhode Island beach in inclement weather to discuss their plans, according to the affidavit.
But on Tuesday morning, Rahim allegedly told Wright that the “easiest target” and the “most common” target would be police. Two hours later, his final confrontation unfolded.
The Globe is not naming the third person Rahim and Wright allegedly met with because he has not been charged. But after Rahim’s shooting, officials searched his Warwick, R.I., home on Aspinet Drive.
Robin Cogswell has lived on Aspinet Drive for most of her life, and said the young man had moved in with his family about five years ago. She said he was the neighborhood’s paper boy, but made no effort to be friendly.
Maria Cramer, Laura Crimaldi, Jan Ransom, Andy Rosen, Matt Viser, and Lisa Wangsness of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com.