The LWOT: Two arrested in Seattle terror plot; Guantánamo gets a new prosecutor

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FBI disrupts alleged "homegrown" terror plot

The FBI and Seattle Police on Wednesday arrested two American citizens and Muslim converts, Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif and Walli Mujahidh, on charges that they allegedly planned to attack a military processing center south of Seattle with guns and grenades (DoJ, Guardian, BBC, ABC, CNN, AFP, Reuters, LAT). Police learned of the plot after Abdul-Latif is said to have contacted a Seattle Muslim in late May about obtaining weapons, who then notified the police and became an informant in the plot (SeattlePi, Reuters, CNN).

According to the criminal complaint, the informant recorded the men speaking approvingly about the Ft. Hood attacks and expressing a desire to kill U.S. soldiers in response to abuses the men said were committed against Muslims by the American military in Afghanistan and elsewhere; the informant allegedly supplied inert weapons to Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh before their arrest, including assault rifles and grenades (CNN, Bloomberg, Politico). The two suspects, who according to ABC News met and converted to Islam in prison, are expected in court next week for a detention hearing (ABC, Reuters).

Marine reservist charged in shootings raises terrorism questions

Prosecutors on June 23 charged Marine Corps reservist Yonathan Melaku in connection with five shootings at military installations last year, after he was arrested early last Friday in Arlington National Cemetary under suspicious circumstances (Post, NYT, ABC, CNN, Post, CBS/AP, NPR). Melaku was arrested with a backpack containing baggies with what he claimed was ammonium nitrate (though NPR reports that the material was inert), as well as a notebook containing the words "Taliban" and "al Qaeda," and a search of his apartment reportedly revealed a checklist of items necessary to fashion a  timer for an explosive device (NPR, CNN, Post, WSJ, ABC).

Lawyers for Oregon teen Mohamed Osman Mohamud, charged with allegedly plotting to bomb Portland's Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, have filed a request for the FBI's classified surveillance records in the case (AP). The lawyers allege that federal authorities tracked Mohamud as a minor, and  may have improperly obtained evidence against him (

In New York on June 21, federal prosecutors filed charges against Kosovar Arid Uka, who allegedly shot and killed two U.S. airmen outside Germany's Frankfurt Airport in early March (FBI, CNN, DW, Reuters). And Norwegian investigators came to New York this week to interview two confessed al-Qaeda-linked terrorism plotters, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, as well as Bryant Neal Vinas, who has confessed to training and fighting with the terror group (AP, NY1).

An Ohio court on June 22 sentenced Amera Akl to 40 months in prison for her role in plotting to send hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Lebanese group Hezbollah (WSJ, AP). A judge in Minnesota this week refused to dismiss the charges filed against Somali women Amina Ali and Hawo Hassan for allegedly providing material support to the militant group al-Shabaab (AP). And prosecutors in Texas have filed a request for evidence in the case of Saudi student Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who stands accused of trying to assemble a bomb from legally-available chemicals (

Senate committee approves detention bill

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved by a 25-1 vote last week a new bill governing detention practices for terrorism suspects (Politico, Lawfare Blog, Lawfare Blog, NYT). The compromise bill would notably mandate military detention for non-American "high value" al-Qaeda terrorists planning attacks against the United States (though such detention could be reversed by the secretary of defense), permanently prohibit the use of military funds for moving detainees from Guantánamo Bay to the United States for trial, tighten restrictions on detainee transfers from Guantánamo, and set up a review system before a military judge for "long-term" detainees at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan (NYT).

The White House this week pushed back against a similar House detention bill, writing in a seven-page policy paper that the bill attempts to "micromanage" defense policy and could foster perceptions that the United States is in an endless war against al-Qaeda and other groups (Politico). And in a confirmation hearing Thursday to head the CIA, Gen. David Petraeus asked lawmakers to devise a uniform standard of interrogation for terrorism suspects, and suggested that "special" techniques that go beyond those in the Army Field Manual could be used in certain cases (LAT, AP).

On Thursday, the Pentagon appointed Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, currently the head of the Rule of Law Field Force in Afghanistan, to be the new chief prosecutor at Guantánamo (Miami Herald, AP, DoD, Post). Martins, considered one of the army's top lawyers, wrote a series of lengthy posts for Lawfare Blog last year dealing with legal issues in war and rule of law promotion in Afghanistan (Lawfare Blog). And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) this week continued his public spat with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder over whether terrorism suspects should be held and tried in military or civilian judicial systems (National Journal, NPR, The Hill, Lawfare Blog). 

Finally this week, a federal judge denied the habeas petition of Afghan detainee and former Taliban figure Khairullah Khairkhwa, despite a request for his release from Afghanistan's High Peace Council, which is tasked with promoting reconciliation with the Taliban (AP, Lawfare Blog).

Trials and Tribulations

  • A New York court last Friday formally dismissed charges filed against slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 1998 (NYT).  
  • The Somali militant group al-Shabaab pledged its support to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a statement released last weekend, and affirmed that, "we are part of [al-Qaeda]" (CNN). And the Department of Justice in a lawsuit revealed that Abu Tayyeb, an al-Qaeda member, allegedly invested $27 million through a Chicago trading firm in 2005, losing up to $20 million of the money through poor investment choices (AP, Chicago Tribune).   
  • In Yemen this week, 62 suspected al-Qaeda militants escaped from prison through a 50-ft tunnel, after other fighters staged a coordinated assault on the compound (AP, Tel, Post, Reuters, BBC, AJE, NYT).  
  • A Jakarta court convicted three men of plotting terrorist attacks on June 21, while the trial of major terrorism suspect Abu Tholut began Monday (CBS, Jakarta Post, AP).  
  • Der Spiegel this week examines the case of a German detained by Austrian authorities after he allegedly returned from receiving militant training in Afghanistan (Der Spiegel, AP). 
  • A major increase in the past few weeks of attacks by the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has raised questions about the group possibly receiving advanced training from militants in other countries (BBC).  

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


The LWOT: Ayman al-Zawahiri appointed al-Qaeda leader

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.

Zawahiri named al-Qaeda leader

In a statement posted to the jihadist Ansar al-Mujahideen forum early June 16, the General Command of al-Qaeda named longtime Osama bin Laden deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri as the group's leader, and promised to continue to fight against the West and Israel (CNN, BBC, Reuters, AFP, Bloomberg). Senior U.S. officials dismissed Zawahiri as a poor replacement for bin Laden, and vowed to capture or kill him (AFP, Reuters, Tel). Zawahiri faces a number of challenges as al-Qaeda's new leader, including his divisiveness within the jihadist community, ongoing attacks against al-Qaeda leaders, and threats to al-Qaeda's message posed by the Arab Spring uprisings (NYT, Times, WSJ, Telegraph, Guardian, LAT, BBC).  

The New York Times reported this week that Pakistan had arrested five "informants" who allegedly helped the CIA track bin Laden, while the AP revealed that Hassan Ghul, the former CIA detainee who supposedly provided key information on bin Laden's support network, has returned to al-Qaeda after being released several years ago by Pakistan (NYT, AP). For more on bin Laden, Zawahiri and other developments, sign up for the AfPak Channel Daily Brief (FP). 

A Somali soldier last Tuesday killed top al-Qaeda figure and alleged mastermind of the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings Fazul Abdullah Mohammed at a checkpoint in Mogadishu (NYT, CNN, AP, LAT, Reuters, WSJ, NYT). Mohammed, who was considered by U.S officials to be the leading al-Qaeda operative in East Africa as well as a commander with the Somali militant group al-Shabaab, was reportedly carrying "very specific" plans to attack Western targets, as well as significant amounts of cash and weapons (Globe and Mail). The AP has an exclusive interview with the young soldier who shot Mohammed (AP). 

Finally this week, the CIA will reportedly begin drone strikes in Yemen in response to growing instability and militant violence in the country, and is said to be building a secret airbase in the Persian Gulf to facilitate these operations (WSJ, Post, Reuters, LAT, NYT, AP, VOA). According to unnamed sources, the CIA drones will operate alongside and in cooperation with drones controlled by the military's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which has conducted strikes in Yemen in the past, though the CIA has looser legal limits on conducting covert operations (NYT, AP, Lawfare Blog, Lawfare Blog).    

Former Gitmo detainee named "global terrorist"

The State Department on June 16 named former Guantánamo Bay detainee and Saudi soldier Othman al-Ghamdi a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for his role in allegedly helping fund and support Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) (Miami Herald, State, AP). Ghamdi appeared in an AQAP video last year, and referred to himself as an "operational commander."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) exchanged statements about civilian terrorism trials this week after McConnell said on the Senate floor that two Iraqi refugees arrested in Kentucky on terrorism charges after a sting operation should have been sent to Guantánamo, rather than indicted in civilian courts (NYT, Reuters, McClatchy, AFP). While Holder did not mention McConnell in his remarks Thursday night, he said that calls to cease civilian terrorism trials were "fear-mongering," and "detached from history -- and from the facts" (NYT, WSJ, Reuters).   

The Department of Justice last Friday issued a guidance to the lawyers of Guantánamo detainees that allows the lawyers to view prisoner assessments and other documents leaked by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, but forbids them from saving or printing the documents (NYT, LegalTimes). The papers, though released publicly, remain technically classified, and lawyers for Guantánamo detainees are bound by government rules regarding the handling of classified materials.

The D.C. Circuit Court this week overturned the release of Yemeni Guantánamo detainee Hussain Salem Mohammad Almerfedi, whom the government accuses of having stayed in an "al-Qaeda guesthouse," prompting Lawfare Blog's Benjamin Wittes to take a detailed look at the differences between training camps and guesthouses (AP, Lawfare Blog, Lawfare Blog). Also this week, an Egyptian detainee sent to Slovakia last year, Adel al-Gazzar, returned to Cairo only to be arrested on account of al-Gazzar's conviction in absentia in an Egyptian court for allegedly trying to overthrow the state (Post, Miami Herald). And three Chinese Uighur detainees sent to Palau have filed petitions requesting that they be allowed to move to Australia with their families (The Australian). 

New York men plead not guilty to synagogue plot

Two Queens men, Algerian refugee Ahmed Ferhani and Moroccan-born U.S. citizen Mohamed Mamdouh, pleaded not guilty June 15 to charges that they allegedly plotted to purchase weapons and attack synagogues in New York (CNN, Reuters, AFP, AP, Courthouse News, Bloomberg). While the pair face 25 years in prison if convicted, the grand jury in the case reduced the charges against them, deciding based on the evidence that instead of seeking to attack a crowded synagogue, the men at worst sought to attack a synagogue when it was empty (NYT, WSJ). The case has received scrutiny due to the fact that the FBI refused to take part in the investigation, leaving the NYPD's Inteligence Division to run a sting operation targeting Mamdouh and Ferhani, who defense lawyers say is mentally unstable (NYT).

Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Peter King (R-NY) held a hearing into Muslim prison radicalization on June 16, though witnesses and committee members alike disagreed on the scale of the problem (LAT, Post, AFP, CNN, WSJ, AP). One witness, Purdue University sociologist Burt Useem, told the committee,"Prisons have not served as a major source of jihadist radicalization...if prisons were a major cause of jihadist radicalization, we would expect to see a lot of it, but we don't" (CNN).

And the Washington Post this week has a must-read piece on the Muslim-American search for identity nearly a decade after the 9/11 attacks, the first part in a series on Muslim life in this country (Post).

Indonesian cleric convicted of terror funding

An Indonesian court on June 16 sentenced radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakir Bashir to 15 years in prison for funding a terrorist group in the province of Aceh (CNN, FT, National Journal, Bloomberg, AFP, SMH). Indonesia has suffered an increase in terrorist attacks and plots in recent months, and this week police arrested a suspect in the 2002 Bali bombings, and separately arrested 16 people allegedly plotting to target police with cyanide (AFP, TIME, AFP).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Austrian police on June 15 arrested three men who allegedly sought to travel for militant training in Afghanistan or Pakistan, as well as a man police identified as a recruiter linked to the "German Taliban Mujahideen" (AFP, AP). 
  • Police in Britain this week charged a 25-year-old man with four terrorism-related offenses, while a man known only as BG lost his appeal to get a control order that forcibly relocated him to another part of the country lifted (BBC, AP, BBC).  
  • Police in Montana are still searching for a right-wing militia member, David Earl Burgert Jr., who is on the run in the state's mountains after allegedly shooting two sheriff's deputies June 14 (LAT, AP, Reuters).  
  • The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing outside of a police building in the city of Abuja that killed several people June 16 (BBC, Reuters).  
  • Authorities are on alert in the Philippines after intelligence reportedly indicated the threat of a bomb attack linked to the militant group Abu Sayyaf (AP).  
  • A Canadian-Sudanese man, Abousfian Abdelrazik, requested June 16 that the UN remove him from its terrorism sanctions list, which has frozen Abdelrazik's assets and banned him from international travel (AFP). 
  • A Danish appeals court this week heard arguments from prosecutors seeking to increase the sentence of a Somali man who attacked cartoonist Kurt Westergaard last year with an axe in response to drawings Westergaard made of the Prophet Muhammad (AP).   

-/AFP/Getty Images