HELENA, Mont. — A Montana judge has ordered an FBI informant to wear a wig or hat, false eyeglasses and fake facial hair when testifying against a man who prosecutors say wanted to avenge the death of Muslims killed in shootings at two New Zealand mosques.
The confidential informant, who helps the FBI in terrorism investigations and has family in an undisclosed location in the Middle East, also must wear loose-fitting clothing or a body suit and lifts in his shoes to alter the appearance of his weight and height, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen wrote in his order Monday.
Federal prosecutors had asked that the courtroom be sealed to the public for the witness’ testimony in the upcoming trial of Fabjan Alameti for the safety of the informant and his family.
But Christensen ruled that a disguise is a reasonable way to protect the witness’ identity while preserving Alameti’s right to a public trial. Open trials allow U.S. citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to discuss governmental affairs in an informed manner, he wrote.
The judge cited a 2013 case in which an informant against Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel wore a wig and mustache to hide his identity while testifying.
Despite the disguise, the jury could hear the witness’ voice, see his eyes and facial reactions and observe his body language, which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled preserved the defendant’s cross-examination rights and the witness’ safety, Christensen wrote.
U.S. Department of Justice attorneys did not respond to an email seeking comment. Alameti’s federal defender, John Rhodes, said only that he respects the judge’s order.
Much of the case against Alameti, who is charged with making false statements involving terrorism and possession of a firearm while using marijuana, hinges on the informant’s testimony, Christensen wrote.
Prosecutors say he lied to authorities about discussions he had with the informant and others about joining the Islamic State group and avenging the New Zealand mosque shootings.
Alameti was traveling to Montana by bus on March 15 when a gunman killed 50 people in Christchurch. Alameti told the informant that he would, “attack random people to avenge the blood,” FBI Special Agent Matthew Duermeier said in a sworn statement to the court.
Alameti, who was 21 when he was arrested at a Bozeman gun range on April 3, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His attorney has said Alameti’s statements were protected under the First Amendment.
His trial is Sept. 3.