The FBI informant in the Occupy Cleveland bomb plot case entered witness protection in June due to death threats he received after The Smoking Gun leaked – and defense attorney John Pyle confirmed – his identity. Cleveland TV station CBS 19 reported on June 7, “Attorneys say they did not release his name and do not want him harmed,” but ABC 5 in Cleveland reported on May 3, “John Pyle, the Cleveland attorney representing suspect Brandon Baxter, told NewsChannel5’s Paul Kiska the informant working with the group was 39-year-old Shaquille Azir.”
On April 30, five Occupy Cleveland members were arrested in an FBI sting. The alleged terrorists, males ranging from 20 to 35 years old, were charged with attempting to bomb the Route 82 Brecksville-Northfield High Level Bridge, which connects two upper-class Cleveland suburbs. A May 2 Associated Press story quoted Pyle as a defense attorney in the case and referred to “a confidential informant.”
On May 2, The Smoking Gun posted informant Shaquille Azir’s photograph online after cross-referencing the FBI affidavit with Cuyahoga County criminal records. By May 3, Brandon Baxter’s court-appointed lawyer had confirmed the FBI informant’s identity to the media as he worked to build an entrapment case. The Ohio News Network – a subsidiary of The Columbus Dispatch – carried the ABC 5 story reporting that Pyle had identified Azir to local media.
“These kids, they had no money, they had no experience, they had a lot of frustration – some anger – but without someone providing them the methods, the means, the encouragement, we wouldn’t be here,” Pyle told ABC 5 reporter Bob Seeley.
On June 7, U.S. District Court Judge David Dowd questioned the defense attorneys during a court status hearing, attempting to determine who had leaked the identity of the FBI’s confidential informant. It is unknown whether Judge Dowd was familiar with The Smoking Gun report, but CBS 19 coverage of the hearing made no reference to Pyle as the source of informant Shaquille Azir’s name.
Judge Dowd also indicated on June 7 that he wanted to advance the September trial date due to concerns about Azir’s safety. Threats to Azir continue from Occupy Cleveland sympathizers and those close to the alleged terrorists. At a protest outside a July 25 hearing, the mother of defendant Connor Stevens described the informant as “worse than a sexual predator” and suggested he should be killed.
In an apparent attempt to discredit the FBI’s confidential witness, Pyle supplied reporters with Azir’s home address, court records, and details of how the informant initially became associated with the five terrorism suspects. Pyle has insisted Baxter – who describes himself as an anarchist – was “coached” into attempting to blow up the Brecksville bridge, from the time the two first met last October until the day of the arrests.
“FBI orchestrators’ hands were not on those fake detonation devices, I mean, that much is true – but that’s downstream, I mean, this started back in October of 2011,” Pyle told ABC 5 in the interview aired May 3.
When ABC 5 reporter Paul Kiska and a camera crew went to the address Pyle had provided as Azir’s, Kiska found a woman there who identified herself as a tenant and told him Azir had moved out in March.
In his role as an FBI informant, Azir recorded Pyle’s client Brandon Baxter speculating about “how taking out a bridge would lead to the government having to put security on every bridge in the country,” and asking fellow plotters if they knew “how much do we need to take out a bridge.”
Media Trackers contacted Judge Dowd’s office for comment on Pyle’s June 7 in-court denial that he endangered Azir’s life by confirming the confidential FBI informant’s identity as leaked by The Smoking Gun. Julia Richmond, Judge Dowd’s judicial assistant, refused to comment or pass along any questions to the judge. Richmond said the judge could not comment on whether he was aware of the media reports in which ABC 5 identified Pyle as the source of Azir’s identity and personal information.