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The following is an excerpt from The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism by Trevor Aaronson (Ig Publishing, 2012).
Antonio Martinez was a punk. The twenty-two-year-old from Baltimore was chunky, with a wide nose and jet-black hair pulled back close to his scalp and tied into long braids that hung past his shoulders. He preferred to be called Muhammad Hussain, the name he gave himself following his conversion to Islam. But his mother still called him Tony, and she couldn’t understand her son’s burning desire to be the Maryland Mujahideen.
As a young man, Martinez had been angry and lost. He’d dropped out of Laurel High School, in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and spent his teens as a small-time thief in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. By the age of sixteen, he’d been charged with armed robbery. In February 2008, at the age of eighteen, he tried to steal a car. Catholic University doctoral student Daniel Tobin was looking out of the window of his apartment one day when he saw a man driving off in his car. Tobin gave chase, running between apartment buildings and finally catching up to the stolen vehicle. He opened the passenger-side door and got in. Martinez, in the driver’s seat, dashed out and ran away on foot. Jumping behind the wheel, Tobin followed the would-be car thief. “You may as well give up running,” he yelled at Martinez. Martinez was apprehended and charged with grand theft of a motor vehicle—he had stolen the vehicle using an extra set of car keys which had gone missing when someone had broken into Tobin’s apartment earlier. However, prosecutors dropped the charges against Martinez after Tobin failed to appear in court.
Despite the close call, Martinez’s petty crimes continued. One month after the car theft, he and a friend approached a cashier at a Safeway grocery store, acting as if they wanted to buy potato chips. When the cashier opened the register, Martinez and his friend grabbed as much money as they could and ran out of the store. The cashier and store manager chased after them, and later identified the pair to police. Martinez pleaded guilty to theft of one hundred dollars and received a ninety-day suspended sentence, plus six months of probation.
Searching for greater meaning in his life, Martinez was baptized and became a Christian when he was twenty-one years old, but he didn’t stick with the religion. “He said he tried the Christian thing. He just really didn’t understand it,” said Alisha Legrand, a former girlfriend. Martinez chose Islam instead. On his Facebook page, Martinez wrote that he was “just a yung brotha from the wrong side of the tracks who embraced Islam.” But for reasons that have never been clear to his family and friends, Martinez drifted toward a violent, extremist brand of Islam. When the FBI discovered him, Martinez was an angry extremist mouthing off on Facebook about violence, with misspelled posts such as, “The sword is cummin the reign of oppression is about 2 cease inshallah.” Based on the Facebook postings alone, an FBI agent gave an informant the “green light” to get to know Martinez and determine if he had a propensity for violence. In other words, to see if he was dangerous.
The government was setting the trap.
On the evening of December 2, 2010, Martinez was in another Muslim’s car as they drove through Baltimore. A hidden device recorded their conversation. His mother had called, and Martinez had just finished talking to her on his cell phone. He was aggravated. “She wants me to be like everybody else, being in school, working,” he told his friend. “For me, it’s different. I have this zeal for deen and she doesn’t understand that.” Martinez’s mother didn’t know that her son had just left a meeting with a purported Afghan-born terrorist who had agreed to provide him with a car bomb. But she wasn’t the only one in the dark that night. Martinez himself didn’t know his new terrorist friend was an undercover agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and that the man driving the car—a man he’d met only a few weeks earlier—was a paid informant for federal law enforcement.