The LWOT: Awlaki-linked terror plotter sentenced to 30 years in prison; Brennan hits out at administration critics

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Awlaki-linked terror plotter sentenced to 30 years

A British court has sentenced U.K. resident and former British Airways employee Rajib Karim to 30 years in prison for plotting to blow up a jet (BBC, Guardian). Central to the case against Karim, whom the judge in the case described as a "committed jihadist," were 300 heavily encrypted emails between the defendant and radical American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (Telegraph). Karim and his brother originally contacted Awlaki to seek advice on waging jihad abroad, before Awlaki reportedly convinced Karim to keep his job with BA (Reuters, Bloomberg, AP). Karim and Awlaki discussed smuggling packages onto planes, the possibility of crashing BA's computer servers, and getting a job as a member of a cabin crew during a labor strike.

In an interview for a BBC television special, the former director of Britain's internal security organization MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, said it was impossible to win the war on terror through military means and expressed her hope that authorities were in communication with "people on the edges" of al Qaeda (BBC).

Brennan forcefully defends civilian trials, Gitmo closing

In an address Friday at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, chief U.S. counterterrorism adviser John Brennan sharply defended civilian trials for terrorism suspects, while also reiterating the need for military commissions and striking at Congressional restrictions on closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay (Politico, AFP, ProPublica). In remarks to reporters after the speech, Brennan additionally warned that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi might turn back to supporting terrorism in response to Western airstrikes designed to brunt his advances against rebels in the country's east (NYT, WSJ).

The Pentagon last week published new rules for civilian and military defense lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees, which in part govern allowable public disclosures from attorneys and dictate how attorneys can communicate with clients previously held in CIA custody (Miami Herald). The rules drew a strong rebuke from the chief military defense attorney, Col. Jeffrey Colwell, who said the restrictions seemed to indicate that conversations between attorneys and their clients were being recorded, and that the new rules are, "going to slow everything down, tie our hands...Getting information to our clients is now going to take weeks instead of days."

Al-Jazeera looks ahead to next Monday's habeas hearing in the D.C. Circuit Court for former Taliban minister and governor of Herat Khairullah Khairkhwa, whose release has been requested by Afghan President Hamid Karzai as part of Karzai's reconciliation efforts with the Taliban (AJE).Larkin Reynolds last week summarized the little-covered appeal before the Court of Military Commission Review of Guantánamo detainee Salim Hamdan, convicted of providing material support to terrorism, which Hamdan contends is not a war crime and thus not within the purview of military commissions (Lawfare Blog). And Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk of Illinois have asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to certify that no Guantánamo detainees will be transferred to the state's Thomson Correctional Facility (AP). 

Trials and Tribulations

  • A Mauritanian court has sentenced two men, a Mauritanian and a Malian, to five years' hard labor for their role in kidnapping an Italian couple in 2009 on behalf of the group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) (AP). The group reportedly this week asked for a ransom of $127 million in exchange for four French hostages seized from the northern Nigerien town of Arlit last September, prompting a public refusal to negotiate in the case by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe (Reuters).
  • An American citizen born in Algeria, Mohamed Omar Dehbi, has been cleared of terrorism charges by Spanish authorities after being detained last September on allegations of laundering money for AQIM (WSJ).
  • An FBI informant who played a key role in breaking up a 2006 terror plot by a group referred to widely as the "Liberty City Seven," Elie Assaad, was arrested this week in Texas on charges that he attempted to run a police officer over with his SUV after a failed traffic stop (AP).
  • The Associated Press this week compares the possible front-runners to succeed FBI Director Robert Mueller, whose 10-year term began just one week before the 9/11 attacks (AP).
  • An Egyptian official announced Mar. 20 that authorities had re-arrested Mohammed al-Zawahiri, the brother of al Qaeda no. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, less than a week after releasing him from prison (AP).



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).

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