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The documentary '(T)error' follows an FBI informant, and twists ensue

The documentary '(T)error' follows an FBI informant, and twists ensue
A scene from the documentary movie "(T)error." (Tribeca Film Festival)

Billed as "the first film ever to capture an FBI sting — as it unfolds," the documentary "(T)error" plays out like an engrossing thriller with nail-biting twists.

Saeed Torres served as a bureau informant after being recruited in the 1990s in return for a reduced prison sentence for a New York City robbery. The crusty Vietnam vet and former Black Panther would befriend persons of interest to gauge their affinity for terrorism. Civilian operatives like him forgo formal training to appear more genuine to their targets, but that also means they can easily become liabilities.

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In 2011, Torres went on assignment in Pittsburgh and adopted the pseudonym "Shariff" to keep tabs on Khalifah Ali Al-Akili, a reputed troublemaker within the local Muslim community. However, Torres became overly solicitous — or so it seems — which threatened to tip off Al-Akili, endangering the operation.

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Filmmakers Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe haven't squandered this rare access, and illuminate the covert operation without intervening. Beyond the conventional espionage on display, they confront viewers with the prospect of civil liberties violations amid the extensive surveillance currently taking place in the United States. The ethical implications of the FBI's counterterrorism tactics prove chilling indeed.

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'(T)error'

No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles

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