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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

Owner of limo company involved in fatal US crash was FBI informant

Shahed Hussain investigated domestic terror threats

The owner of a limousine company in the crash that killed 20 people was someone already familiar to law enforcement, but not in the way you might think.

Prestige Limousine is owned by Pakistani immigrant Shahed Hussain, according to federal transportation records. Before the crash, the authorities knew him best as a paid informant of domestic terrorist threats after the September 11 attacks.

Mr Hussain's company said on Monday it is investigating what caused Saturday's crash in Schoharie, New York, and had met state and federal authorities.

In 2009, the government credited Mr Hussain with rooting out extremists in an elaborate sting at a mosque in Newburgh, a city north of New York. At a trial, the jury heard testimony that Mr Hussain posed as a wealthy representative of a Pakistani terrorist organisation.

He drove a BMW and other luxury vehicles provided by the FBI to maintain his cover. He also made hundreds of hours of video and audio tapes of the defendants picking targets for attacks and ranting against Jews. His co-operation resulted in the conviction of four men in a thwarted plot to attack synagogues and shoot down military planes.

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But Mr Hussain's work was attacked by defence lawyers and civil liberties groups as entrapment. They portrayed him as a master manipulator who entrapped a group of aimless nobodies while earning $96,000 for his work.

Even US District Judge Colleen McMahon said at sentencing that she was not proud of the government's role in the plot.

"I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition," Judge McMahon said. She added: "That does not mean there was no crime."

According to his own trial testimony, Mr Hussain first entered the US in Texas with his wife and two sons in the 1990s and went to Albany, where he received asylum. In April 2003, he was working as a government translator when he pleaded guilty to a federal fraud charge for helping someone get their driver's license illegally.

He received a sentence that required no more jail time if he worked as an FBI informant.

Mr Hussain was a central player in an FBI sting targeting an Albany pizza shop owner and an imam who were convicted of money laundering and conspiring to aid a terrorist group. Both defendants said they were tricked by Mr Hussain during the sting, which involved a business loan using money from a fictitious missile sale.

More recently, a botched sting involving Mr Hussain in Pittsburgh became the subject of a documentary called (T) error. The target described on Facebook how after meeting the informant he had the "feeling that I had just played out a part in some Hollywood movie where I had just been introduced to the leader of a 'terrorist' sleeper cell".

Asked Monday about Mr Hussain, the FBI would not comment.

A stretch limousine owned by Mr Hussain's company was taking 18 people to a 30th birthday party in New York when it crashed on Saturday killing all the occupants, and two pedestrians.