Qubilah Shabazz pleaded innocent Wednesday to trying to kill Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, a former rival of her slain father, Malcolm X.
Last week’s indictment of Shabazz on charges she hired a hit man to kill Farrakhan has been criticized as a set-up by Shabazz’s friends, relatives and many other blacks, including Farrakhan himself.
In his first public comments on the alleged plot, Farrakhan said the criminal charges against the Shabazz are part of a larger conspiracy to destroy him because of what he described as his growing influence among black Americans.
Speaking to more than 2,000 supporters Tuesday night, at Mosque Maryam, the Nation of Islam’s headquarters in Chicago, Farrakhan proclaimed Shabazz innocent of the charges against her and said she had been manipulated by government agents into becoming “a tool in a diabolical scheme.”
“If we can prove there was in fact government entrapment of this young lady, I believe we as a community should rise to demand her release,” he said.
Proclaiming that he is “now becoming the voice of black America” as his supporters cheered, Farrakhan charged that “the government is working feverishly to provide a basis to prosecute me.”
“The ultimate aim of this government is to destroy Louis Farrakhan by planting the seeds of public contempt and hatred of me through manipulation of the media,” he added.
Defense lawyers say the 34-yearold Shabazz was lured into the alleged plot by a childhood friend, identified in media reports as Michael Fitzpatrick, who was a longtime government informant.
The Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported that an undercover videotape indicates Shabazz raised objections to Fitzpatrick’s plan and was worried others would be hurt.
“He talks at length and she listens. She’s not pleased. She’s coming up with objections, reasons why he shouldn’t do it,” the newspaper quoted an unidentified federal official as saying.
With longtime civil rights lawyer William Kunstler standing by her side, Shabazz quietly pleaded innocent. She could get up to 90 years in prison and $2.25 million in fines.
Shabazz has been free on $10,000 bail since she surrendered to authorities last week. Trial was set for March 27 in Minneapolis.
Prosecutors have refused to comment on a possible motive for the alleged plot, but Malcolm X’s family has long believed Farrakhan had a hand in his 1965 assassination.
Qubilah was 4 when she and three of her five sisters watched their father gunned down before a crowd of supporters in New York City on Feb. 21, 1965 - a year after Malcolm X had broken with the Nation of Islam. Three Black Muslims were convicted of the murder.
Kunstler also maintains Shabazz’s indictment is part of a government conspiracy to discredit black leaders.
“I think what we will find out from this bizarre case is that there was set in motion a plan to cause the assassination, if possible, of Louis Farrakhan, but it was a plan set by the Bureau, the FBI,” he told Minnesota Public Radio.
Outside the courthouse, a small group of demonstrators hoisted a green and red banner proclaiming “The Real Hitmen: The Feds.”
The banner had pictures of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, killed by police in Chicago in 1969.
Malcolm X’s widow, meanwhile, denied she had raised her six daughters to hate her late husband’s rival.
“I read in one magazine that I probably had fed her a steady diet to dislike Farrakhan, which is absolutely untrue,” Betty Shabazz, a college administrator in New York City, said after the arraignment.
Betty Shabazz would not comment specifically on Farrakhan’s statements, but said, “I was totally surprised at the extent of his humanity.”
In a TV interview last year, Betty Shabazz, said she believed Farrakhan was involved in the assassination of her husband, the fiery black nationalist leader who was once a close ally of Farrakhan.
Farrakhan declared, as he has in the past, that “I was and I remain absolutely innocent of any involvement in the assassination of Malcolm X.”
Percy Sutton, a New York City lawyer who represents the Shabazz family, said entrapment is “the essence of this case.”
“At no time during the development of those children has Dr. Shabazz ever instilled in them any hate in anybody. Dr. Shabazz has borne her own pain,” Sutton said.
In another development, Fitzpatrick told the Twin Cities Reader that Shabazz called him and asked him to kill Farrakhan. He said he had not heard from her in 16 years.
“My belief is that if someone comes to you and says, ‘I want you to do something,’ and you do nothing, and someone else does that thing, then the resulting aftermath is on your soul,” Fitzpatrick told the weekly newspaper.