Qubilah Bahiyah Shabazz, 34, was a child when she witnessed the 21 gunshots that killed her father, the legendary Black Muslim Leader Malcolm X, in a Harlem auditorium in 1965.
On Thursday she was indicted on charges of trying to arrange the murder of Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan--the man who succeeded her father as the Nation’s spokesman and who has been dogged for decades by rumors that he was involved in the assassination.
Federal authorities said Shabazz paid a prospective hit man, who cooperated with law enforcement authorities during a seven-month investigation.
A federal public defender representing Shabazz denied the allegations in the nine-count indictment. “She’s not guilty of the crimes named,” said attorney Scott Tilsen.
Federal prosecutors and FBI agents declined to comment on her alleged motive, but Shabazz’s mother, Betty Shabazz, spoke publicly in March of her belief that Farrakhan played a role in the killing of Malcolm X. Although Farrakhan wrote in the Nation’s newspaper before the assassination that “such a man is worthy of death,” he has denied involvement in the killing.
Relations between the survivors of Malcolm X, who broke angrily with the Nation of Islam before he was gunned down, and Farrakhan have for decades defined a hostile division in the American Black Muslim community.
Law enforcement officials said Thursday that an aide to Farrakhan was informed of the alleged plot months ago. Since the FBI used audio and videotapes, as well as surveillance, to monitor developments, Farrakhan was never in physical danger, they said.
“At no time did it appear that this attempt was actually going to happen,” said Bob Long, a spokesman for the FBI office in Chicago.
The Nation of Islam did not comment Thursday.
U.S. Atty. David Lillehaugh said the suspected contract killer “is not, to my knowledge, a member of the Nation of Islam” and would testify during the trial.
The indictment charges Shabazz with making eight phone calls in July and August to Minnesota in connection with a death plot, and with making a “partial payment” after she moved to Minneapolis from New York City in September.
The murder, Lillehaugh said, was to take place in Illinois. Farrakhan lives in a Chicago mansion in the South Side Hyde Park neighborhood near the University of Chicago.
Qubilah Shabazz was informed she was a suspect two weeks ago in his office, Tilsen said. She was released Thursday by a federal magistrate on a $10,000 uninsured bond and will be arraigned next week.
If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison on each of nine counts, and/or a $250,000 fine.
The informant is “a childhood friend,” her lawyer said, who “had his own difficulties with the government.” Tilsen suggested that the presumptive assassin--whom neither he nor Lillehaugh would identify--had entrapped the defendant.
“She was an easy target,” Tilsen said.
“She has memories of her father,” he added. “With all the new stories, it’s easy enough to stir up emotions.”
A documentary called “Brother Minister,” released last year, included footage of a 1993 Farrakhan speech. “Was Malcolm your traitor or was he ours?” Farrakhan asks, presumably addressing outsiders. “Ours,” the crowd shouts back. “And if we dealt with him like a nation deals with a traitor,” Farrakhan continues, “what the hell business is it of yours?”
Farrakhan’s “traitor” remarks referred to the excommunication of Malcolm X from the Nation after he revealed that the religion’s leader, Elijah Muhammad, had fathered children by his secretaries.
Malcolm X had risen to prominence as Muhammad’s national spokesman. As Muhammad transformed an obscure sect into a highly visible movement that demonized white people and preached dignity and self-reliance to blacks, Malcolm X and his explosive opinions were widely quoted. His autobiography, told to Alex Haley, inspired thousands.
Malcolm X, who changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, had begun moving closer to classical Islam and was moderating his hostile stance toward whites. Muhammad’s son, W. D. Mohammed, maintains that his father also was rethinking many of his positions.
On Feb. 21, 1965, the outcast Malcolm X was gunned down at the lectern of Harlem’s Audubon Auditorium. The three men convicted in his death were identified as former members of the Nation.
Almost immediately, theories and speculation circulated: Muhammad, Farrakhan, the FBI, the CIA, alone or in various combinations, all were fingered as the true forces behind the assassination.
After Muhammad’s death in 1975, Farrakhan founded a “new” Nation of Islam that stayed closer to the group’s original teachings. His scathing rhetoric against whites in general and Jews in particular has stirred up boiling controversies on college campuses, in political campaigns and among civil rights activists.
In Steven Barboza’s “American Jihad: Islam After Malcolm X,” published in 1993, Farrakhan said he did not regret his words or actions in the wake of the split in the Nation. Muhammad’s secretaries were wives, Farrakhan said, and he had defended his leader against “vicious slander.”
Farrakhan told Barboza his condemnations of Malcolm X “fostered the atmosphere” for murder but added: “I would do the same today. I wouldn’t do one thing different.”
Times staff writer Stephen Braun in Minneapolis contributed to this story.
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A Nation Divided
Controversy has often surrounded the Nation of Islam since it grew into prominence in the 1930s. Under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad, the group’s membership grew to an estimated 200,000 in 1975.
The Nation of Islam was founded on a mixture of traditional Islamic theology, economic independence, self-help and black separatism.
Converts typically changed their last names to remove the vestiges of slavery. Among them: Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, and boxer Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay.
Malcolm X was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965, a year after he had broken with the Nation of Islam; three people were convicted of his murder and sentenced to at least 20 years in prison. Two have been paroled.
Wallace Muhammad After Elijah Muhammad’s death in 1975, the Nation split. Muhammad’s son, Wallace, rejected separatism and moved toward orthodox Islam.
Louis Farrakhan, who was recruited by Malcolm X into the Nation in the 1950s, broke away from Wallace Muhammad in 1977 and organized a new Nation of Islam, which returned to preaching the race-oriented philosophy of Elijah Muhammad.
Qubilah Shabazz, the 34-year-old daughter of Malcolm X, was charged Thursday with using the telephone and crossing state lines to hire a hit man to kill her late father’s rival.