Once free, Karim Koubriti tried to reconnect with normalcy.
He’d spent three years behind bars after being wrongly accused of being part of a Detroit terrorist sleeper cell, then another 15 months in a halfway house while prosecutors figured out how to address a charge of insurance fraud.
Authorities eventually dropped the fraud charge, but the clean slate didn’t necessarily mean easy sailing. For a while, he couldn’t find a job. People would say, “Oh, you’re that guy,” a reference to the terrorist accusations.
“I had a hard time getting a job. It was difficult in the beginning until things calmed down,” he said.
His first work as a free man involved working at a gas station and cleaning a hotel. Then, falling back on training he had received as a truck driver before his arrest, Koubriti started driving for a company in Dallas. He ended up losing $8,000 when the owner bounced some of his paychecks in 2007 and 2008.
Even as he tried to move on with life, he hadn't forgotten what he felt was a grave injustice.
He filed a $9 million lawsuit against Convertino and the lead FBI agent, claiming they had railroaded him and violated his civil rights.
A judge eventually dismissed the suit, saying the law protected federal law enforcement people from such suits.
Koubriti had a little more success with a lawsuit he filed against Wayne County sheriff’s deputies for continually serving him pork when he told them he was an observant Muslim. It ended with an undisclosed settlement that was reportedly for a modest sum.
In the bigger lawsuit involving Convertino, he felt once again, the system had betrayed him.
“I wasted 4 1/2 years of my life, and they didn’t even apologize,” he said.
In 2009, Koubriti bought his own 18-wheeler. He picked up a dedicated route, Michigan to Kansas City, which he drove twice a week, delivering auto parts. He started making good money. Then he bought another truck. Now he has a trucking company in a Downriver suburb with eight rigs and drivers.
When he came to the U.S. Koubriti didn’t really think about starting a business. But eventually, after buying some trucks, he wanted to have other people do the driving so he could live more normally than 13-hour days while being constantly on the road.
“It was hard work. You have no life,” he said.
The terrorism case had serious ramifications for the government and Richard Convertino, the lead prosecutor. The Justice Department indicted him on charges of subverting justice for withholding information from the defense, including a photo of a Jordanian hospital that may have helped the defense disprove that a crude drawing was part of a terrorist plot. Convertino claimed the photo was lost in the mound of evidence.
Convertino, who had left the U.S. Attorney’s Office, was acquitted of the charges. He is now in private practice.
Koubriti, 33, has moved on, though he sometimes reflects on the long and painful chapter in his life and thinks about what he has learned.
He says he learned to be careful. “I don’t want to make any more mistakes,” he said.
He learned patience and acceptance. “Get used to bad things happening to you.”
While things are going relatively well these days, he says he doesn’t want to stay in the U.S. forever. At some point, he says, he’ll probably sell his company and return to his native Morocco.
His father, a school principal, died last year, but his mother, a retired school teacher, lives there, along with a brother, sister and friends.
“That’s my country. I miss everything about it,” Koubriti said.
While he remains a productive member of American society, he believes he has achieved something that was unthinkable a few years ago – the American Dream.
“So far,” he said.
But not everything has been dreamy.
Koubriti recently broke up with his longtime girlfriend. She is Iraqi Christian. He’s a Muslim. The family liked him, but they did not accept the idea of a Christian marrying a Muslim.
“It’s a taboo,” he said.
One of his attorneys Leroy Soles, who sat nearby during part of the interview with Deadline Detroit, noted how Islam had played a notable role in Koubriti’s fate.
“The same thing that marked you in 2001 marked you in love,” he said.
In any case, the nightmare of his imprisonment has not left Koubriti bitter. If anything, he said he has come away with more compassion.
“I feel for a lot of people,” he said. “I always give everybody I deal with the benefit of the doubt because I was not given the benefit of the doubt.”
Listen to Karim Koubriti talk about his ordeal: