The LWOT: DOJ indicts Canadian in NY Subway plot; Lawmakers and lawyers spar over Gitmo

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

Must-read: Andrea Elliott has a lengthy profile of Yasir Qadhi, a popular salafi imam who sits on the fault lines of debate amongst some American Muslims about radicalization, jihad and Islam in the United States (NYT, NYT).

FBI indicts Canadian in Zazi plot

Federal prosecutors in New York on Mar. 15 unsealed a superseding indictment (available here) charging a Canadian man, Ferid Imam, with providing material support to al Qaeda and allegedly helping train and provide assistance to New York Subway plotters Najibullah Zazi, Zarein Ahmedzay and Adis Medunjanin (FBI, AFP, AP, WSJ). Medunjanin awaits trial in the plot, while Zazi and Ahmedzay have pled guilty to terrorism charges. Zazi reportedly identified Imam, who is accused of entering Pakistan in 2007 with another man in order to fight American forces in Afghanistan, as a weapons trainer in a militant camp in Pakistan's volatile tribal regions (CNN). The two men also face terrorism charges in Canada (Globe and Mail).

In congressional testimony Mar. 16, FBI Director Robert Mueller said that the biggest threat facing the United States today is from terrorism, and especially from al Qaeda and its affiliates (VOA). Also this week, a website leaked a purported FBI report detailing the construction of a bomb placed on a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade route in Spokane, WA (Spokane Spokesman-Review). The father of a man arrested in connection with the bomb plot, Kevin Harpham said his son was with him when the bomb was planted, but that his son had "racist beliefs" and could have helped construct the bomb (AP).

Lawmakers and lawyers spar over Gitmo

Top Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson testified in front of the House Armed Services Committee on Mar. 17, where he urged the committee to allow both civilian and military trials of Guantánamo Bay detainees, in part to reduce the chance that courts will interfere when detainees formally object to their imprisonment (AP). He also pushed back on proposed legislation by committee chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA)  that would revise the original authorization for the use of military force against terrorist groups and further limit civilian control over terrorism detainees (Miami Herald, Danger Room, The Atlantic). The New York Times this week examines McKeon's rising influence, and Benjamin Wittes looks closely at Sen. Lindsey Graham's proposed reforms of habeas standards in terrorism detentions (NYT, Lawfare Blog).

Also this week, the Court for Military Commission Review (CMCR) heard oral arguments in the appeal of al Qaeda propagandist Ali al-Bahlul, in a case that could have broad implications for the scope of military trials and their definition of "war crimes" (Lawfare Blog).

Diplomat warns of consequences of Libya instability

Hours before the U.N. Security Council voted to allow the use of force in order to protect Libyan civilians, U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns warned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that dictator Muammar Qaddafi could return to supporting terrorism and regional instability if he prevails over rebels currently holding out against government attacks in the country's east (VOA, Reuters, CNN). In order to support its claims of foreign leadership of the month-old rebellion, the Libyan government yesterday held a press conference with a captured man allegedly linked to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) (Telegraph, Financial Times).

The Wall Street Journal reports yesterday that the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa has disrupted some counterterrorism partnerships and caused the U.S. to lose track of a number of former Guantánamo detainees sent back to the region (WSJ). And Egypt's ruling military council has released from prison the brother of al Qaeda no. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, detained since his extradition from the United Arab Emirates in 2000 (NYT).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Federal prosecutors on Mar. 15 indicted Dani Nemr Tarraf, arrested in 2009, on charges that he attempted to buy automatic rifles and antiaircraft missiles for the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah (Philadelphia Inquirer).
  • Documents released by the website WikiLeaks this week indicate that American authorities in 2006 expressed serious concern that the growing number of sharia-compliant banks in Britain could be used as a conduit for funds for terrorist groups (Telegraph). 
  • Der Spiegel this week examines the role Internet communities of jihadi writers and sympathizers played in the radicalization of Arid Uka, who allegedly killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded two others in a shooting at Frankfurt Airport earlier this month (Der Spiegel).
  • A Mauritanian court on Mar. 15 sentenced Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) member Mohamed Abdallahi Ould H'Mednah to death over the 2009 killing in the country's capital Nuakchott of American Christopher Leggett (AFP, Reuters, BBC). In a speech this week British security minister Pauline Neville-Jones said AQIM had made over £13 million from kidnapping Europeans, though she did not specify the time period in which the money was made (Telegraph). 
  • The European Commission on Mar. 17 requested greater transparency from the United States into a program that taps European banking data to track terrorism financing (NYT).
  • Indonesian authorities accused the militant group Jemaah Islamiyya, linked to radical cleric Abu Bakir Bashir, of being behind a series of "book bombings" targeting moderate Muslims in the country (AFP, AP, Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney Morning Herald).

Spencer Platt/Getty Images


The LWOT: Musharraf says Britain was complicit in torture; Domestic terrorism arrest made in Alaska

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

Musharraf says Britain complicit in torture of Britons

In an interview for a BBC program on terrorism that ran yesterday, former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf suggested that he had "tacit approval" from British authorities to torture Britons suspected of terrorism ties, saying he was never told not to abuse British suspects in Pakistani custody (Guardian, BBC, Telegraph). Former senior British leaders responsible for security have denied the claim, which will be the subject of an independent investigation set to begin within the next few months (UPI). 

British prosecutors have charged a 30-year old nursing student, Ezedden Khalid Ahmed al-Khaledi, with providing money to attempted Swedish suicide bomber Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, who died after accidentally detonating an explosive on a busy Stockholm street last December (Guardian, Telegraph, Bloomberg, WSJ). Al-Khaledi was allegedly involved in terrorist fund-raising as far back as 2003.

Alaska police arrest militia suspects

National and local law enforcement in Fairbanks, Alaska this weekend arrested five purported members of the "sovereign citizens," a group the FBI considers domestic terrorists, on charges that they stockpiled weapons and plotted to kill several Alaska State Troopers and a federal judge (Fairbanks Daily News-Miner).

The FBI and NYPD are reportedly at loggerheads after the NYPD attempted to transfer the head of New York's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), an NYPD detective, to another unit for refusing to share task force information with his superiors (New York Daily News).  

Confusion over Gitmo provision

Julian Barnes of the Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration has confirmed that despite a line to the contrary in President Obama's executive order on Guantánamo Bay last week, the administration will not apply Article 75 of the Geneva Protocols, which call for humane treatment and fair trials, to al Qaeda suspects (WSJ, Lawfare Blog, Lawfare Blog). The administration asserts instead that while military tribunals and detention practices are in keeping with Article 75, U.S. authorities are not bound by the provision.

Former Guantánamo and CIA inmate Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first Guantánamo inmate to face civilian trial, has reportedly avoided being transferred to the federal "supermax" prison in Florence, CO, and has instead been transferred to a high-security prison in the same complex (NYT). Ghailani was convicted last year for his involvement in the 1998 East African embassy bombings. 

Carol Rosenberg reports this weekend that the Obama administration's decision to begin new military trials raises questions about possible death penalty sentences if the government decides to try detainees on capital charges (McClatchy). And the Globe and Mail highlights how Libyan rebels have attempted to portray themselves as separate from extremists, despite the fact that some rebels have fought with or received training from radical groups or spent time at Guantánamo (Globe and Mail).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Leaked Indian interrogation records from interviews with a Hindu radical have shed light on anti-Muslim attacks by Hindu terrorists - allegedly supported by some nationalist leaders and army officers - attacks that in the past had been blamed on Pakistani extremists (Washington Post).
  • Defense attorneys for Tawahhur Hussain Rana, who will stand trial in May on charges that he helped orchestrate the 2008 Mumbai attacks, have asked prosecutors for emails sent between Rana and key Mumbai planner David Coleman Headley (Chicago Tribune).  
  • Prosecutors in Germany have charged German-Syrian Rami Makanesi, reportedly connected with Frankfurt Airport shooter Arid Uka, with belonging to a terrorist organization for the training he allegedly underwent with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (AP).
  • American officials are concerned with growing calls among Egyptian protest leaders to release or re-try imprisoned members of the several radical organizations, including the al Qaeda-linked Gamaa Islamiyyah (WSJ).
  • Dozens of people protested in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh this weekend, calling for the release of prisoners they say were wrongfully detained under the country's anti-terrorism laws (VOA).
  • Greek police forces this weekend raided safehouses reportedly belonging to the terrorist group Conspiracy Nuclei of Fire, seizing weapons and arresting six (AP).
  • Nigerian security forces in the conflict-torn central city of Jos last Friday captured an explosives-filled truck, while militants reportedly from the radical group Boko Haram killed a nonviolent Muslim religious leader in the city (Reuters, AP).
  • Bosnian protesters this weekend called on authorities to release six men of Middle Eastern and Afghan origin who had lived in the country for years but were stripped of their citizenship after the 9/11 attacks, on the grounds that they are national security threats (The Canadian Press).
  • Worried about a rising threat from terrorism, Kyrgyzstan will soon be home to a U.S.-funded anti-terrorism center to train the country's security forces (AP).