Source: The Ne Yorker
Zainab Ahmad has prosecuted thirteen international terrorist suspects for the American government. She hasn’t lost yet.
Zainab Ahmad had a small disaster in Saudi Arabia. “I always borrowed an abaya from the legat in Riyadh,” she said. An abaya is the full-length robe that is required dress for women and girls in Saudi Arabia. “Legat” is short for the legal-attaché office, the F.B.I. presence in an American Embassy. Ahmad is an Assistant United States Attorney with the Eastern District of New York. “A button came undone during a meeting, and suddenly it was like something out of ‘Showgirls.’ ” Ahmad laughed. The Saudis were unamused. “After that, I went and bought my own abaya on Atlantic Ave.”
We were sitting in a diner on Cadman Plaza, across from the Brooklyn federal courthouse. Ahmad, who is thirty-seven, was looking litigation-ready, in a well-cut dark suit and a cream blouse. “That’s Judge Glasser,” she whispered, motioning with her eyes toward another table. “He did the Gotti trial.”
The Eastern District of New York has long been known for its work against organized crime. Since the September 11th attacks, E.D.N.Y. has also become an aggressive prosecutor of terrorism, securing more convictions than any other U.S. Attorney’s office. Ahmad’s specialty is counterterrorism, her subspecialty “extraterritorial” cases, which means that she spends a great deal of time overseas, negotiating with foreign officials, interviewing witnesses, often in prison, and combing the ground for evidence in terror-related crimes against Americans. She spends time in American prisons as well, typically with convicted jihadists. A former supervisor of Ahmad’s told me that she has probably logged more hours talking to “legitimate Al Qaeda members, hardened terrorist killers,” than any other prosecutor in America.
“They’re treasure troves of information about the networks, once they decide to coöperate,” Ahmad told me. “Some of them didn’t expect to be here, to face any consequences. Their plan was suicide. Now they’re very vulnerable. Everybody’s human. You pull the levers.” The main lever that prosecutors have with coöperators is a reduced sentence. For naïve young men, disenchanted with jihad and looking at forty years to life, that can be a powerful incentive to talk. Ahmad may ask them to testify in court. She has prosecuted thirteen people for terrorism since 2009, and has not lost a case.