In 1966, Muhammad Aziz was one of three men convicted of the first-degree murder of civil rights icon Malcolm X, which occurred the year prior on February 21, 1965. Aziz and fellow convict Khalil Islam spent more than two decades in prison behind the assassination until they were released in 1985. Then, in 2021, Aziz and fellow convict Khalil Islam, who died in 2009, were officially exonerated of the murder, and New York County Supreme Court Administrative Judge, Ellen Biben, granted a motion to vacate the convictions.
On Thursday, Aziz filed a $40 million lawsuit against the federal government, which he has accused of causing him “immense and irreparable” damage over the past six decades.
“This is the last chapter in a legal battle that’s gone on for almost 60 years, and holding the federal government accountable for its misconduct would be a fitting end to this saga,” David B. Shanies, Aziz’s attorney, told CNN.
A 22-month investigation led by then-Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office and involving the Innocence Project and lawyers for the men found that evidence of their innocence, including FBI documents, was withheld at trial, according to court documents.
Aziz, Islam and a third man – Mujahid Halim – were sentenced to life in prison after their convictions. Halim admitted he shot Malcolm X but said both Aziz and Islam weren’t involved in the killing.
The lawsuit claims numerous FBI officials, including former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, engaged in acts of corruption and misconduct by presenting false evidence in the case “to divert blame from individuals whom certain FBI employees did not want to see prosecuted for their crimes.”
FBI employees concealed information that would have exonerated Aziz “for the purposes of, inter alia, protecting and concealing the scope, nature, and activities of its domestic “Counterintelligence Program,” also called “COINTELPRO,” the lawsuit says.
This isn’t the first lawsuit related to the FBI’s COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program) activities used to undermine the civil rights battle by targeting its leaders, specifically Malcolm X.
Earlier this year, near the 58th anniversary of Malcolm’s assassination, the revolutionary leader’s family, along with civil attorney Ben Crump, filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against the FBI, the CIA, New York City and state, the NYPD, and the District Attorney’s Office, all of which were accused of “the alleged assassination and fraudulent concealment of evidence surrounding Malcolm X’s murder.”
Aside from that suit and the one filed by Aziz’s attorney last week, the state of New York agreed to pay $26 million to settle lawsuits filed on behalf of Aziz and Islam’s estate, according to CNN.
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