Who are Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam and why they have been exonerated?
Fifty-six years since the assassination of Malcolm X, two of the men charged with killing the historic human rights activists will be exonerated
Decades after the assassination of human liberation activist Malcolm X, two of the men charged with his murder had their convictions overturned. The two men, Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam were incarcerated in 1966 and released in 1985 and 1987, respectively. Mr. Aziz is still alive to see his sentence thrown out, but sadly Mr. Islam passed away in 2009. Both maintained their innocence and now one is able to have the world learn that he was telling the truth all these years.
The two men had been members of the Nation of Islam and were sentenced alongside Thomas Hagan. During the trial, Hagan had testified that the other two defendants did not participate in the assassination, but in the end, all three were found guilty. Years later, he submitted two affidavits, called the Hayer affidavits, which affirmed the innocent of Aziz and Islam, and named those who allegedly participated in the assassination.
Among historians and those who have investigated the assassination, there has long been skepticism that the correct people were convicted of the crime. Interest in the case gained popularity after a Netflix six-part documentary series titled Who Killed Malcolm X? was released in 2020. After the release, the Manhattan district attorney's office launched a new investigation.
New evidence emerges
In February 2021, various outlets reported on a letter made public by former-NYPD Officer Raymond Wood which stated that he had been pressured by his superiors to convince members of Malcolm X’s security team to participate in the crimes so that they would not be at the event where the leader was killed.
The letter read that it was Wood's job to "draw the two men to a felonious federal crime, so that they could be arrested by the FBI and kept away from managing Malcolm X’s autobahn ballroom door security on February 21, 1965."
Additionally, the New York Times has reported that a twenty-two-month investigation conducted by the Manhatten district attorney's office and lawyers representing the two men, found that many of the actors involved in the trial led to the false imprisonment of the men. Documents examined during the investigation found that prosecutors, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the New York Police Department withheld evidence that would have proven the innocence of both men.
At the time, Mr. Aziz's alibi was confirmed by a witness who remains alive and was interviewed during the investigation. What is still not clear is exactly why these two men were selected as "fall guys" for the operation. As members of the Nation of Islam, they were easy targets as in the days and weeks before his murder, Malcolm X had spoken publically about how the organization was trying to kill him.