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Purported Boston terrorism plot targeting Pamela Geller was 'wishful thinking,' official says

Police: Anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller was possible target for beheading

Controversial anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller was mentioned as a possible target for beheading by a man who was shot and killed by a counter-terrorism task force this week, Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans said Thursday, but he characterized it as "more along the lines of wishful thinking."

Evans, in an appearance on the "Today" show, discounted the idea that Usaamah Rahim, 26, had imminent plans to attack Geller, who hosted a provocative Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, last month that was attacked by two Islamist gunmen. Police shot and killed both attackers in a parking lot. 

But Evans added of Rahim, who had been under 24-hour surveillance when he was shot in Boston on Tuesday after allegedly threatening officers with a knife: “This was very real, it was very dangerous, and when it unfolded Tuesday morning, could have saved not only police officers' lives, but who knows where it could have gone also.”

A school official in Boston told the Associated Press that Rahim had spent his freshman year of high school in Saudi Arabia.

Supt. Bill Lupini, of the Brookline, Mass., school system, said Rahim graduated from Brookline High School in 2007 but spent his first year at the Academic International School in Saudi Arabia.

Lupini said in a statement issued Thursday that Rahim's guidance counselor and dean remember him as a “bright young man” who had no major disciplinary infractions.

Rahim went to college in Florida, Lupini said. 

Also Thursday, supporters for Rahim’s family questioned officials’ use of deadly force and said they had seen no indications that Rahim, who was married, had been radicalized by violent Islamist groups in the Middle East such as Islamic State, also known as ISIS. 

An aunt, who identified herself only by a first name, Karen, told reporters that she thought Rahim, as a black man, had felt threatened by police.

“As you all know with the current slaughter of black men going on right now across the nation, that’s enough to make any and all black men feel threatened,” the aunt said at a televised news conference. “That would be one of the prevalent reasons why he would feel that way. It has nothing to do with Islam. … If it wasn’t for him being Muslim, we would not be hearing ‘terrorism,’ we would not being hearing ‘ISIS’” in the media coverage.

An attorney for the family, Ronald Sullivan, told reporters, “The family is not making any substantive claims at this time about what happened in this case.”

The family planned to watch the surveillance video of the shooting at the district attorney’s office later Thursday and then bury Rahim on Friday, Sullivan said.

Officials’ allegations that Rahim was planning to behead someone or attack police “came as a complete shock to the family,” Sullivan said, adding, however, that “we simply don’t have evidence one way or another.”

Authorities have not discussed in detail how Rahim came under scrutiny.

Conspiracy charges filed Wednesday against his nephew, David Wright, 24, alleged that the pair had apparently been discussing beheadings and a possible attack on police officers, often in generic terms.

Officials have said the pair discussed a possible beheading in conversation with an unidentified third person. A third person has not been arrested, according to Boston police and the U.S. attorney's office in Boston.

Wright was arrested Tuesday and made an initial court appearance Wednesday. A judge reportedly ordered him to remain in custody.

Evans said Thursday in a televised interview that he is "confident that at least this threat has been neutralized."

“I believe we have everyone connected with this plot, " Evans said. "There is nothing bigger, at least that we know of, operating in the city of Boston."

On Wednesday evening, spokeswomen for the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Boston declined to comment on the alleged threats against Geller. 

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, Geller declined to say whether investigators had contacted her beforehand about any threats. Asked about whether she would change anything she was already doing, Geller responded, "Doing it more."

“This is what’s getting lost in post-Garland, Texas – that ISIS is here, Islamic terrorism is here, they targeted me for violating sharia blasphemy laws," Geller said in a phone interview. "This is really a showdown for American freedom. Will we stand against the savagery or will we bow to them and silence ourselves? That’s the question.”

Official statements and court documents provide only glimpses of Rahim's alleged plot to behead an unidentified person in a state outside Massachusetts.

He had bought knives on Amazon last week and on Sunday went to Rhode Island with Wright to talk to a third person about a possible beheading, according to court documents.

Authorities apparently became more concerned about Rahim after intercepting a 5 a.m. Tuesday phone call in which officials said he told Wright he had decided he wanted to attack police officers.

“I’m just going to, ah, go after them, those boys in blue,” Rahim said, according to a transcript of the call in the court documents. “ ’Cause, ah, it’s the easiest target and, ah, the most common is the easiest for me.”

Wright was charged with conspiring to destroy evidence after officials said he told Rahim to destroy his phone, “because, at the scene, at the scene, CSI” -- an apparent reference to crime scene investigators – “will be looking for that particular thing, and so dump it, get rid of that.”

Two hours later, officials with Boston police and the FBI in a Joint Terrorism Task Force approached Rahim near a CVS drugstore parking lot -- not to arrest him, officials have said, but to question him about his intentions.

Rahim pulled out a knife, and when police told him to drop one of the knives he had, he replied, “You drop yours,” according to court documents.

Community leaders who viewed surveillance video that shows the encounter from a distance said that Rahim advanced on the officers before they fatally shot him.

They discredited claims by Rahim's brother, an imam, Ibrahim Rahim, that Rahim had been on the phone when he was shot and that he had been shot in the back.

At the Thursday news conference, the family’s attorney, Sullivan, backed away from those assertions. He told reporters that Ibrahim Rahim “simply did not have all the facts at that time” and made his claims about his brother’s death based on hearsay from unidentified “third parties.”

Sullivan said phone records showed Usaamah Rahim had been on the phone with his father shortly before he was killed, but Sullivan said he didn’t know what Rahim said in that conversation with his father or exactly how long it happened before he was shot.

Sullivan said the family requested privacy until at least after Rahim was buried Friday.

Evans, the Boston police commissioner, said Thursday that the investigation into Rahim's plans continue.

The shooting will be investigated by the Suffolk County district attorney's office to determine whether the use of force by police and the FBI was appropriate.

Follow @MattDPearce for national news

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

6:50 p.m.: Updated to include report that Rahim spent a year of high school in Saudi Arabia. 

2:44 p.m.: Updated to include new comments from Usaamah Rahim's family.

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