“… even if it be the weight of a grain of mustard-seed, even though it be in a rock, or in the heaven or in the earth, Allah will bring it forth. Surely Allah is Knower of subtilities, Aware.”
—Holy Qur’an 31:16
“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”—Bible John 8:44 KJV
Lies and liars continue to be exposed and the treachery of the U.S. government’s deadly actions in targeting, infiltrating and attempting to destroy the Nation of Islam (NOI) is once again being brought to light.
Finally, after 55 years, a New York judge on Nov. 18 exonerated Muhammad Aziz and Kahlil Islam, two of the three men convicted of murdering Malcolm X. Both men had always maintained their innocence and the FBI and New York Police Department knew from the beginning the two were not involved and were nowhere near the Audubon Ballroom that fateful day in1965.
“We are moving today to vacate the convictions and dismiss the indictments of Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam for the assassination of Malcolm X on February 21, 1965. But I want to begin by saying directly to Mr. Aziz and his family, to the family of Mr. Islam, and the family of Malcolm X, that I apologize for what were serious, unacceptable violations of the law and the public trust,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. in front of Chief Administrative Judge Ellen Biben at the New York State Supreme Court.
A 43-page Joint Motion to Vacate Judgements of Conviction and Dismiss Indictment laid out several critical points. A nearly two-year investigation by attorneys for Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam, the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the Innocence Project revealed that prosecutors for the FBI and NYPD withheld key evidence that would have led to the men’s acquittal had it been turned over.
The third man convicted, Thomas Hagan (also known as Talmadge X Hayer and Mujahid Abdul Halim), was arrested at the Audubon that day, confessed to his role in the assassination and later stated during the 1966 trial that Mr. Aziz (known then as Norman 3X Butler) and Mr. Islam (known then as Thomas 15X Johnson) were innocent and not involved.
All three men were sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. Mr. Aziz, now 83, was paroled in 1985. Mr. Islam, who died in 2009 at age 74, was paroled in 1987.
“I apologize on behalf of our nation’s law enforcement for this decades-long injustice, which has eroded public faith in institutions that are designed to guarantee the equal protection of the law. We can’t restore what was taken from these men and their families, but by correcting the record, perhaps we can begin to restore that faith,” said District Attorney Vance.
The DA’s inquiry was prompted by the many questions raised in the Netflix documentary series, “Who Killed Malcolm X?” released in 2020 which chronicled the research and investigation of Abdur-Rahman Muhammad about the assassination.
“The recently unearthed evidence of Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam’s innocence that had been hidden by the NYPD and FBI not only invalidates their convictions, it also highlights the many unanswered questions about the government’s complicity in the assassination—a separate and important issue that, itself, demands further inquiry,” said Vanessa Potkin of Innocence Project.
The U.S. government’s records show through its FBI Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) under director J. Edgar Hoover that it sent informants and agents into the ranks of the NOI to foment tension and division among its members. When Malcolm X split from his teacher and benefactor, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, eventually starting Muslim Mosque Incorporated and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, law enforcement infiltration of all three organizations did not cease.
The U.S. government has had the NOI in its crosshairs since the group’s founding in Detroit in 1930 by Master Fard Muhammad, Allah in Person, the Great Mahdi and Teacher of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Both men were arrested, jailed and viewed as a threat for their Teaching of Black independence and self-determination.
Abdul Akbar Muhammad joined the Nation of Islam in New York in 1960 under Minister Malcolm X. That is where he met and worked with Mr. Aziz. He told The Final Call he and “Brother Norman 3X” worked together in the early 1960s. Both were tasked with assisting in training Muslim brothers in the FOI (Fruit of Islam) class. Mr. Aziz used to teach the men martial arts, shared the longtime NOI pioneer.
“I know personally that the brothers were not there at the Audubon Ballroom,” said Akbar Muhammad, who today serves as international representative for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. In a previous conversation he had with Mr. Aziz, Min. Akbar Muhammad said Mr. Aziz told him when law enforcement personnel came to his home days after the assassination,
“they went in his closet and pulled out a coat and told him to put that particular coat on,” he shared. “He didn’t understand that. You know, he was there with the police officers who were arresting them. … The last time we talked, he told me that ‘they wanted me to put their coat on,’ so that they could identify, somebody would identify that coat.”
Evidence points to U.S. gov’t
The exonerations of Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam is another step toward the full exoneration of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, said Student Minister Wesley Muhammad. Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam were framed to frame the Nation of Islam and authorities knew Malcolm’s assassins were not from New York but were from New Jersey, declared the researcher, author and lecturer who holds a PhD. in Islamic Studies.
“There was a reason even though the New York Police Department and the FBI knew in early March, not a week after Malcolm X was gunned down at the Audubon Ballroom, it was known that the source of the hit squad, if you will, was not New York but was New Jersey,” explained Student Min. Wesley Muhammad.
Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam were FOI from New York’s Temple No. 7 (as the mosques were called at that time). Confessed gunman Mr. Halim had been a member of Temple No. 25 in Newark however was in “F-Time”, explained Wesley Muhammad.
This means he had been put out of the temple, was not in good standing and was not active or permitted to be part of the Nation’s activities or community.
“There was a reason this government, the prosecutor’s office, the New York Police Department, and the FBI, there was a reason they insisted on making this a Nation of Islam New York operation and so they framed two well-known New York FOI when they knew that the mechanics, if you will—that’s the intelligence community’s name for shooters, in cases like this—the shooters came out of Newark but the actual identity of the shooters linked the operation back to the New York Police Department and the FBI,” the NOI student minister explained.
Of the three gunmen at the Audubon that day, the shotgun shooter who fired the fatal first shot at Malcolm X was identified years later as William 25X Bradley of Newark. Mr. Halim later pointed the finger at Mr. Bradley (later known as Al-Mustafa Shabazz) as one of the men involved. In 1978, Mr. Halim gave the names of four men who he said were his accomplices, yet officials did not reopen the investigation of the murder. Mr. Halim was released in 2010 and is still living.
In the Netflix documentary, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad’s investigation also came to the same conclusion, that Mr. Bradley was the shotgun shooter. For years, late attorney William Kunstler also worked to reopen the case, arguing that Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam were not guilty.
There was no political will to bring justice to this case, Abdur-Rahman Muhammad told Marc Lamont Hill, host of Black News Tonight airing on the Black News Channel. “It allows us to begin the process to interrogate the government; to find out just what was involved here. Why was there such prosecutorial misconduct and why as we’ve shown in our series was there such a desire to protect the man that they knew to be the shotgun assassin, William X Bradley?” asked Abdur-Rahman Muhammad.
Mr. Bradley died in 2018 and said he was not involved in the assassination. He has been described as an “enforcer” for Temple No. 25 in Newark and was featured heavily in the Netflix special, but Student Min. Wesley Muhammad said one key detail has been omitted.
“William 25X Bradley was a Newark, New Jersey, Muslim, only as a cover. He was an employee of the New York Police Department. He even had an office at the Harlem station, so he was undercover in Newark. So, his role in the assassination was not on behalf of the Newark Mosque No. 25 but was on behalf of the New York Police Department!” declared Student Min.
Wesley Muhammad. Leon 3X Davis, who was also later identified as the gunman with the Lugar, was caught at the scene of the crime but his identity at the time was protected, explained Student Min.
Wesley Muhammad. “There was no reason to protect the identity of a shooter of Malcolm unless you are protecting an asset. Leon 3X Davis, a Newark shooter but a protectee of the New York Police Department. Why was he protected? Well certainly because he was a protected asset. His gun disappeared. William Bradley’s gun disappeared. The refusing to open up the files, release key files, the disappearance of files and the disappearance of the weapons all are part of the cover up, I believe.”
The Newark connection to the assassination had to be “bleached out” because it proved the connection and link to the NYPD and FBI’s involvement, he explained. Eugene Roberts, a Black NYPD intelligence unit agent assigned to infiltrate Malcolm’s OAAU organization and eventually became his head of security, was also at the Audubon that day.
A history of duplicity
In February of this year, a press conference at the Malcolm and Betty Shabazz Center in New York was held outlining a confession by Ray Wood, an undercover NYPD officer and infiltrator of Black organizations, which cast additional light on the government’s hand in the killing of Malcolm X and prompted renewed demands that all files related to the killing of the Black nationalist leader—especially the full FBI files—be made public.
Daughters of Malcolm X and his wife, the late Dr. Betty Shabazz, were present. Mr. Wood said a federal agent directed him to go to the Audubon Ballroom and observe something that would happen. He said he watched as the fatal shooting took place and the FBI and the NYPD were involved. A letter from Mr. Wood, the onetime undercover agent was released, and he shared how he was assigned to infiltrate Black organizations throughout New York City. Mr. Wood died in late 2020 and his memoir, “The Ray Wood Story: Confessions of a Black NYPD Cop on the Assassination of Malcolm X,” was released earlier this year.
Since the early 1990s and beyond, Minister Farrakhan has called for the release of all government files about the death of Malcolm X.
During the exoneration hearing, DA Vance stated his office obtained dozens and dozens of reports, from the FBI and NYPD’s BOSSI unit. “These records include FBI reports of witnesses who failed to identify Mr. Islam and who implicated other suspects. And, significantly, we now have reports revealing that, on orders from Director J. Edgar Hoover himself, the FBI ordered multiple witnesses not to tell police or prosecutors that they were, in fact, FBI informants,” he told the judge.
According to Min. Akbar Muhammad, the objective of BOSSI was to put people inside the NOI who would spy and cause disinformation and confusion within its ranks. “They know that they did all of this, and it was the deathbed confession of one of the men that they were using (Mr. Woods) in terms of accusing the Nation of killing Malcolm. Allah (God) is the best knower. It all comes out now and we will just see how it unfolds.”
Dr. Wesley Muhammad argues the reason the government refuses to open the files into the assassination is because it will clearly show the government’s hand. Telephone records, the weapons used, and other critical evidence has been destroyed or disappeared and files that have been made public are heavily if not completely redacted.
“This is really just another example of how the Black community has been horrendously impacted by COINTELPRO. We’re talking about an effort to prevent the rise of a Black Messiah, the FBI, took outrageous action to arrest and convict and cover-up what they themselves were doing! Afterall, this was a cover-up from the FBI and agents that they had within the Nation of Islam,” said Attorney Nkechi Taifa, a longtime human rights activist.
Demetric Muhammad, author of the book, “But Didn’t You Kill Malcolm?: Myth-Busting The Propaganda Against The Nation of Islam,” stated he had mixed feelings on news of the exoneration. While he is happy for Mr. Aziz and the families of both men that their names have been cleared, there is a clear argument that it was long overdue.
“There’s an old saying that justice delayed is justice denied. So, I hope that what follows from this admission from the Manhattan DA, is that a grand effort be made to help make the families of these two brothers whole … they certainly are well-deserving of monetary compensation for having given many years of their lives up to incarceration and having their families broken apart as a result of that,” said the Memphis-based student minister who is also a member of the NOI Research Group.
An apology is not enough
For journalist Doshon Farad, who was outside the courthouse and caught glimpses of Mr. Aziz as he left the hearing, said this case is just one of many involving Black men and women in prison for crimes they did not commit or who are still locked up when there has been evidence if not to exonerate, to at least grant them a new trial.
There are cases across the country of Black and Brown political prisoners that need to be made known, explained Mr. Farad. “This is another case in my judgement of the criminal, criminal injustice system.”
While the Manhattan district attorney apologized, critics argue it rings hollow. Lives have been destroyed, families needlessly suffered, and pain has been inflicted on innocent parties.
Mr. Islam’s son Shahid Johnson was thankful but also saddened. “The fact that the family suffered, growing up with concerns of fear, of people coming after us … those kind of things you can’t get back,” Mr. Johnson said after the hearing. “Normality was gone when I was 10,” he said. “Right now, this is great, but not so great at the same time,” he added.
Min. Akbar Muhammad said he last spoke with Mr. Aziz about six months ago and that all he was concerned about was one day clearing his name.
“I mean, you can’t just have an exoneration. I mean, this was these people’s lives! Decades taken away. What is the compensation? Where is the reparations that is due? Where is the healing that we need for our communities?” asked Atty. Taifa.
“When will the FBI stand charged for their actions? Not one FBI agent ever served time for counterintelligence activities? Not one. So, we can’t just sit down and say, ‘Okay, folks have been exonerated.’ The FBI needs to be put on trial! It’s a good feeling that finally, ‘justice’ has been done … But it’s not enough,” she continued.
“It’s not enough and until we really start dealing with what the genesis of what all of this was—the illegal actions of a U.S. government through its tentacles, i.e. the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there won’t be any true justice.”
Vindication of the Nation of Islam
While there are those who will still accuse and blame the NOI for the assassination of Malcolm X—even as more evidence is revealed vindicating the 90-year-old movement, its Eternal Leader the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and His National Representative and Chief Student, Minister Farrakhan—those efforts are collapsing on weak ground.
This deliberate lie of NOI involvement has caused pain not just on the families of the men wrongly accused but on the families of Elijah Muhammad, Min. Farrakhan, Malcolm X, as well as the Nation and Black America in general. It was by design, argued Min. Akbar Muhammad.
“All of the young students who were tossed between their love of Minister Farrakhan and their love of Malcolm as the patron saint of liberation struggle, these students were torn. They loved Malcolm, and they love Minister Farrakhan, and the enemy was showing them that Farrakhan and Elijah Muhammad were enemies to our people, and so forth, and they planned all that and worked it for years. As Allah (God) would have it now, it comes to the surface, that we had nothing to do with the death of Malcolm. And that it was all planned and laid out,” said Min. Akbar Muhammad.
“We need to make use of this kind of development to put it within our narrative of our complete innocence. But the Manhattan DA, and mainstream media are using this story to basically say, the Nation of Islam is guilty. We just arrested and imprisoned the wrong members of the Nation of Islam. That’s their narrative,” said Student Min. Demetric Muhammad. However, the popular and official narrative that the NOI killed Malcolm X is unraveling, he explained.
Student Min. Wesley Muhammad, also a member of the NOI Research Group and serves as a National Laborer, agreed. “They framed these well-known New York Muslims, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson at the time, well-known Muslim FOI out of New York and to seal the Nation of Islam killed Malcolm X narrative,” said Student Min. Wesley Muhammad.
“It’s right that we start with an exoneration of those two New York FOI but they were framed not just to do injustice to them. The whole purpose of their framing was to frame the Nation of Islam and in particular the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad for the murder of Malcolm X. So, the next step is a public exoneration of the Nation of Islam and an apology for all the efforts that this government entered into in order to frame the Nation for this crime,” said Student Min. Wesley Muhammad.
“Our narrative, which is not a narrative for propaganda purposes, it is just the truth is that the U.S, government is responsible for the assassination of Malcolm X,” noted Student Min. Demetric Muhammad.
The enemies of the Nation of Islam whip up this false narrative for another reason, observed Student Min. Wesley Muhammad. “They use the murdered Malcolm X against the living man that they fear, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. The government’s posthumous investment in Malcolm after killing Malcolm, they invested in his legacy so heavily, not because of Malcolm X but because of Louis Farrakhan.”
(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)