Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, the Imam of the Islamic Learning Center of Orange County--where three of the four accused terror plotters first met the government informant who ultimately served them up to the feds--gave a press conference yesterday in which he said he thought the alleged plotters might have been entrapped. 

“This informant was basically trying to get people to come on, to get involved in something,” he said. “I believe that this person was more than just someone listening in to see if someone had some bad ideas. But I believe that this person was someone who was prompting, prompting, prompting and trying to get people to get on board with this thing.”

A couple of years ago, Muhammad said, congregants came to him, concerned over a man who had started pressing people to go to lunch, a man who talked of jihad and fighting.

The suspects all look poor and needy, Muhammad said, and they may have been weak in the face of an offer of money.

“Individuals approached me and said that is exactly what this individual (the informant) did,” Muhammad said, “Individuals approached me and said ‘this individual offered me $25,000 and he started talking about jihad, and this that and the other,’ and he said ‘I don’t want no part of that.’ So people back off of him (the informant). And so he obviously finally got someone to go along with it.”

It seems like entrapment, Muhammad said. “You have a little bit of money out of your pocket. Then someone comes and takes the money. So okay, we caught him, yeah, he’s a thief. But you entrapped him, because you put the money out there like that so somebody could take it. And he did, so you got him.

I don't necessarily doubt Muhammad's story: It certainly wouldn't be the first time since 9/11 that a government informant had seemingly been more gung ho about a terror plot than the plotters themselves (although the fact that the Newburgh 4 actually went so far as to try to carry out their plot makes their case a lot more serious than that of, say, the Liberty City 6). But here's my problem: If Muhammad knew there was a guy in his mosque who was offering members thousands of dollars to join him in jihad, shouldn't he--or maybe some of those members--have told the FBI about this? From all the news we have so far, it seems as if no one informed on the informant.

--Jason Zengerle