Malcolm X's daughter charged in plot to assassinate Farrakhan

January 13, 1995|By New York Times News Service

When Malcolm X was assassinated nearly 30 years ago in a Harlem ballroom, his 4 1/2 -year-old daughter, Qubilah Bahiyah Shabazz, was there and watched her father die in a hail of gunfire.

Yesterday, Ms. Shabazz, 34, was arrested in Minneapolis on federal charges of trying to hire a hit man to kill her father's Muslim disciple turned bitter rival, Louis Farrakhan, minister of the Nation of Islam and a man her mother believes to have been involved in Malcolm X's murder.

"This is an extraordinary case," David L. Lillehaug, the U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota, said in announcing the arrest and indictment of Ms. Shabazz.

If convicted, Ms. Shabazz, who moved to Minneapolis from New York City in September, could be sentenced to 90 years in prison and $2.25 million in fines.

For three decades, mystery and myth have surrounded the death of Malcolm X in the Audubon Ballroom and what role, if any, Minister Farrakhan played on that bloody Sunday afternoon, Feb. 21, 1965.

Last year, Malcolm X's widow, Betty Shabazz, said in a television interview that she believed Minister Farrakhan had been involved in the assassination.

"Nobody kept it a secret," Dr. Shabazz said on WNBC-TV's "News Forum," a local television station in New York.

"It was a badge of honor. Everybody talked about it."

Minister Farrakhan has long denied any role in his former mentor's murder and has never been charged.

But in recent years, he has often expressed regret at creating what he called a violent "climate" that hovered over Malcolm X during the last year of his life, after his bitter break with the Nation of Islam and its founder, Elijah Muhammad.

The authorities had informed Minister Farrakhan several months ago of a plot to kill him, but it was not until yesterday that he learned of Ms. Shabazz's alleged involvement.

He is scheduled to hold a news conference today in Chicago. He refused to comment yesterday.

His chief of staff, Leonard F. Muhammad, said: "Minister Farrakhan has trust in God, and having threats when you are attempting to do something to contribute to the rise of black people is nothing new."

Ms. Shabazz was indicted on nine counts of using the telephone and traveling across state lines to arrange the assassination of Minister Farrakhan, who lives in Chicago.

According to the authorities and the indictment, Ms. Shabazz began discussing the plot over the telephone in July with a person in St. Paul.

The U.S. attorney refused to identify the other conspirator but said the person had never been a member of the Nation of Islam.

Two months later, Ms. Shabazz moved from her home in New York to Minnesota, where prosecutors say she made a partial payment for Minister Farrakhan's murder.

Scott Tilsen, her court-appointed federal public defender, said yesterday that Ms. Shabazz had been "set up" by the authorities and the man who was supposed to assassinate Minister Farrakhan.

The man, Mr. Tilsen said, was an old childhood friend who betrayed her to curry favor with the government.

"We believe," Mr. Tilsen said, "the evidence will show that the other person, at all times, was working for the government and that she was seduced into this whole alleged scheme to kill Farrakhan."

He said he believed the authorities had been in contact with the man for seven or eight months because of an unrelated investigation.

Mr. Tilsen said the man was having some problems in that investigation and wanted to improve his standing with federal agents by enticing Ms. Shabazz into the murder conspiracy.

"He had an easy target," Mr. Tilsen said. "She had witnessed the murder of her father when she was 4 1/2 years old and in the last year and a half had heard her mother publicly proclaim Farrakhan was the killer of her father."

In her first court appearance, Ms. Shabazz was calm and composed.

Federal Magistrate Jonathan G. Lebedoff apologized twice for mispronouncing her name.

Ms. Shabazz was released after posting $10,000 bail. She is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in St. Paul.

Federal investigators have had her under watch for months with audio and video equipment.

Mr. Tilsen said he would argue that the tapes revealed Ms. Shabazz as the victim rather than "the plotter."

"The analogy is that if your mother or father had been murdered," he said, "and somebody came to you and enticed, cajoled you into discussing what happened, you'd listen and it could be made to appear that you were in a conspiracy."

The assassination of Malcolm X has long been the subject of fiery debate and conspiracy theories involving the Nation of Islam, the New York City police and the FBI.

Three men, all Nation of Islam members, were charged and convicted in the killing, but only one, Talmadge X Hayer, also known as Thomas Hagan, was caught at the scene. Unlike the other assassins, Hayer, who had been shot by one of Malcolm X's bodyguards, was unable to flee.

Hayer soon admitted his part in the killing, but insisted that the other two accused men, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, were not his accomplices.

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