Terror Case Hinges on a Wobbly Key Player

The transcripts by federal prosecutors depict a scene that could be out of a B-movie. In a German hotel room bugged by American agents, a Yemeni sheik was murmuring about jihad, a federal agent was posing as a former Black Panther eager to give millions to terrorists, and a roundish Yemeni man with a checkered past was egging on the others in his new role as one of the United States government's favorite -- and best-paid -- informers. In time, the informer, Mohamed Alanssi, would come spectacularly undone. This month he set himself on fire outside the White House because of a tangled dispute with the F.B.I. His act, and the attention it has drawn to his strange story, have damaged what may be the biggest terrorism financing case in this country. He is, it turns out, a former American Embassy employee in Yemen who was fired twice and left his country with a warrant out for his arrest for his role in a financial dispute.

This article was reported by William Glaberson, Ian Urbina and Andy Newman and written by Mr. Glaberson.; William K. Rashbaum and Margot Williams contributed reporting from New York City for this article, and Kirk Semple from Beacon, N.Y

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