The LWOT: Alleged Ft. Hood plotter indicted

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Alleged Ft. Hood plotter indicted on explosives charges

U.S. Army Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo, who was arrested last month for allegedly plotting to attack American servicemen at or near Ft. Hood, was indicted by a grand jury in Texas on August 8 on charges of possession of an unregistered destructive device and illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition (CNN, AP, Reuters, AFP, Politico). Before being arrested with bomb-making materials and instructions on July 27, Abdo had reportedly been absent without leave from his base in Kentucky, and had been accused of unrelated child pornography offenses. Lawfare Blog comments on the lack of charges (so far) specific to Abdo's Ft. Hood attack plot, and the legal difficulties of lone-wolf terrorism cases (Lawfare).

A lawyer assisting Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit on December 25, 2009, filed a motion on August 5 requesting that Abdulmutallab's trial be moved from Michigan so that his client could receive a fair trial (AP, Bloomberg, Politico). Abdulmutallab, who plans to represent himself in court, is also asking the judge to throw out statements he made while sedated when he was undergoing medical procedures for burns he suffered during the failed attack. A separate motion filed on August 5 by prosecutors in the case requested that Abdulmutallab be prevented from asking questions of government officials during the trial that may force them to reveal information sensitive to U.S. national security, a request granted August 9 (Politico, DFP).

A federal judge on August 9 approved a joint request from federal prosecutors and defense lawyers to delay the trial of two men accused of plotting to attack a military processing station in Seattle, Walli Mujahidh and Khalid Abdul-Latif, citing the complexity of the case and the large amount of evidence gathered by police and the FBI (Seattle Times, AP). Also on August 9, Pennsylvania man Emerson Begolly, indicted last month on terrorism and weapon charges, pleaded guilty to encouraging participants on his Islamic extremist Internet forum to carry out attacks on American military and civilian targets, and to possession of a firearm (AP, Reuters).

An attorney for Waad Ramadan Alwan, one of two Iraqi men facing terrorism charges in Kentucky, has said that he requested in a motion filed on July 19 that two unidentified charges against his client be dropped because the Geneva Convention prohibits those charges from being prosecuted in a U.S. civilian court (AP). Prosecutors in the case subsequently filed a motion on August 8 arguing that Alwan is not protected under the Geneva Convention, making it lawful for him to be tried on all current charges in a civilian court (AP).

A federal judge on August 8 denied bail for Irfan Khan, who along with his father and brother is charged with conspiring to provide material support for terrorists, specifically for plotting to send money to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) (Reuters). The attorney for Khan's father, Hafiz Khan, has requested the identity of the FBI informant whose recorded conversations with the defendants provide the "backbone" of the prosecution's case (AP). And former Minneapolis resident Mahamud Said Omar, who was arrested by authorities in the Netherlands last year and recently extradited to the U.S., is set to appear in court today to answer charges of involvement in recruiting at least 20 Somali-American men in 2007 and 2008 to fight alongside the Somali militant group al-Shabaab (Star Tribune).

Authorities on August 10 found a small explosive device attached to a timer on a gas pipeline in rural Oklahoma, though authorities say they have no leads in the case (CNN, AP, Reuters, AFP, ABC). And three people were arrested August 5 after a fake bomb was discovered in the carry-on bags of an Ethiopian woman at the Phoenix International Airport (AP).

Pentagon names new Gitmo commander

The Department of Defense on August 10 announced the appointment of Rear Adm. David Woods as the new commander of the Guantánamo Bay detention center (Miami Herald). Woods is currently the director of strategy and policy at the headquarters of Naval Operations, and is responsible for the war court known as "Camp Justice" established by the Bush administration to try those accused in relation to 9/11 and other war crimes.

Carol Rosenberg reported on August 6 that as most Guantánamo detainees begin their tenth Ramadan in prison, more than half of them are not fasting (Miami Herald).

And Time magazine has a must-read this week on the "terrorist hunters" of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, who are used increasingly to fight the nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism, but who some allege are overstepping their authority (Time).

Bali bomber extradited to Indonesia

Admitted Bali bomb plotter Umar Patek was extradited on August 10 to his native Indonesia, where he is being held in a detention center awaiting charges (AP, AFP, BBC, CBS, AJE). Indonesian authorities were initially reluctant to take custody of Patek because their terrorism laws were implemented in 2003 and are non-retroactive, prompting concern that it would be difficult for them to prosecute him for the 2002 Bali attacks. As a result, Patek is likely to face criminal charges of premeditated murder and violating an emergency law on explosives, but the only possible terrorism-related charges he may face would be for assisting Dulmatin, the fugitive mastermind of the Bali attacks killed in 2010 (NYT, Jakarta Post).

Trials and Tribulations

  • A federal judge in Oregon on August 10 ruled against a motion requesting a new trial for Pete Seda, who was convicted of raising money to send to militant extremists in Chechnya through his Islamic charity organization (AP).
  • A couple in the United Kingdom, Mohammed Sajid Khan and his wife Shasta Khan, was charged on August 5 with engaging in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism (BBC).
  • In an audio message purportedly from al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and posted on August 8 to a jihadist Internet forum, the speaker calls on Sunni militants who left the insurgent group and joined the U.S. and Iraqi governments to return to AQI (AP, Reuters).  
  • The Somali militant group al-Shabaab withdrew from the capital city of Mogadishu on August 7 as the country's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) declared victory over the insurgent forces (LAT, Reuters, NYT, AP, AJE, CNN). However, al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Sharif Ahmed Rage rejected the notion that the group has been defeated, calling the withdrawal "tactical," and experts warn that a small expansion of government control will do little to bring peace to the nation. For the first time, the Somali government on August 9 offered amnesty to al-Shabaab militants still fighting in Mogadishu if they renounce militancy (Reuters, AJE).
  • In a manifesto posted to an extremist website, a radical anti-nanotechnology group claimed responsibility on August 9 for mail-bombs that injured two researchers in Mexico, and praised the "Unabomber" Theodore Kaczynski (AP).
  • A man of Palestinian origin known to the public only has Hussam S. is facing terrorism charges in Germany for posting videos, audio and texts on the Internet in support of violent jihad, and attempting to recruit people to al-Qaeda (AP).
  • The head of the U.N.-back tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said in an open letter published on August 11 that the four Hezbollah figures indicted in the case will receive a fair trial if they turn themselves in, offering the option of appearing in trial via video-link instead of traveling to the Netherlands in person (AJE, AP, AFP, CNN).  

Joe Raedle/Getty Images


The LWOT: White House releases counter-extremism strategy

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.

White House releases counter-extremism strategy

On August 3, the Obama administration released its eight-page national strategy for countering domestic violent extremism, casting the federal government not as a primary player in these efforts, but "as a facilitator, convener, and source of information" (Politico, AP, CNN, NYT, Reuters). Entitled "Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States," the plan focuses on the need to protect American communities that are being targeted for radicalization and recruitment by extremists, and provide local law enforcement agencies, schools, and community leaders with the tools to fight radicalism. Bonus read: Brian Fishman and Andrew Lebovich, "Countering Domestic Radicalization: Lessons for Intelligence Collection and Community Outreach" (NAF).

On August 1 Attorney General Eric Holder invoked the state secrets privilege in a U.S. District Court in a bid to dismiss a lawsuit brought against the FBI's allegedly unconstitutional surveillance of southern California mosques (Politico). The case was brought after it was revealed that an FBI informant, Craig Monteilh, had planted recording devices in an area mosque and attempted to engage local Muslims in conversations about jihad.

Suspected Ft. Hood plotter indicted

A day after being arrested for a suspected plot to attack Ft. Hood, Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo was charged in a District Court in Waco, TX with illegal possession of a firearm, and authorities have said they expect more charges to follow (Reuters, AP, BBC, Post, LAT). As he was led out of the courtroom, Abdo reportedly shouted "Nidal Hasan, Fort Hood, 2009," referring to the U.S. Army officer accused of killing 13 people in 2009 in a shooting spree at the base.

The bomb-making recipe allegedly found in Abdo's possession corresponds to an article published last year in the English-language magazine produced by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Inspire (Post). And according to court documents, after his arrest Abdo told the FBI about his plans to make bombs out of gun powder and shrapnel packed into pressure cookers, then explode them at two restaurants frequented by U.S. servicemen (LAT, Reuters). In a probable cause hearing on August 4, a federal judge ruled that prosecutors have enough evidence against Abdo to present their case to a grand jury (Reuters, AFP, CNN, AP).

On August 2, Emerson Begolly, an American arrested last month on charges of attempting to incite jihadists to kill Americans and posting bomb-making instructions on the internet, informed a federal court of his intentions to plead guilty (CNN, AP). The charges carry sentences of 10 and 20 years in prison, respectively.

A U.S. District Judge ruled on August 3 rejected a motion brought by lawyers for terrorism suspect Tarek Mehanna to have some of the charges against him dismissed, on the grounds that his actions were protected under the First Amendment (AP). Mehanna was indicted in 2010 for conspiring to kill American troops in Iraq.

And a Saudi Arabian student in Texas charged in February for attempting to build and detonate a weapon of mass destruction, Khalid Ali-M. Aldawsari, has reportedly hired two new, high-profile defense attorneys (Politico).

Alleged Norway attacker makes demands

Anders Behring Breivik, the man allegedly responsible for bombing and shooting attacks in Norway on July 22 that killed 77 people, asserted during police interrogations on July 29 that he had formulated plans to attack targets had he not been arrested, and that he had called the police during his shooting spree on the island of Utoya (BBC, AJE, AFP). His defense attorney said this week that Breivik has also presented an "unrealistic" list of demands in return for identifying his claimed accomplice cells, including the resignation of the government, a request that a Japanese psychiatrist conduct his mental evaluation, and his appointment as chief of Norway's military (Independent, Guardian).

Reuters reports on the difficulties facing Breivik's defense attorneys if they go through with their plan to plead insanity for their client (Reuters). And a poll has shown that following the attacks, a majority of Norwegians favor longer sentences for serious crimes, while Norway's justice minister warned against shaping policy "in a state of panic" (Guardian, BBC).

The attacks have also sparked debate in Norway about issues concerning immigration and tolerance, prompting the country's prime minister Jens Stoltenberg on August 1 to urge the nation not to start a "witch hunt" against freedom of expression (Reuters, BBC, AP). Der Spiegel has a nine-part series on Breivik's motivations and plans, and the views of Western pundits on which he based much of his 1,500-page manifesto (Der Spiegel).

British authorities request access to Gitmo detainees

British police have reportedly requested to interview Guantánamo Bay detainees as part of their investigation into allegations of official British complicity with American mistreatment of detainees (AFP). Lawyers for the detainees said in a letter on August 4 that they would not cooperate with the investigation unless they are able to question officials and intelligence agents (AP). The government's inquiry is currently set to question in secret the British intelligence agents and officials involved in the handling of Guantánamo detainees.

Human rights groups sent a letter on the same day refusing to submit any evidence to or meet with the inquiry team, saying that arrangements for the investigation are "secretive, unfair and deeply flawed" (Guardian, Tel). And the accounts of British security and intelligence agencies made public this week show that MI5 and MI6 have paid former British Guantánamo detainees a total of £12 million (around $20 million) in legal settlements (Tel).

On August 3 Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr fired his two long-time Canadian defense attorneys and hired two new defenders, writing in a letter to his previous lawyers that although he is "deeply indebted" to their dedication, changing his defense team was in his "best interests" (Miami Herald). Khadr also imposed a gag order on his U.S. military attorneys on the same day, and provided no further information on his decision.

A U.S. Federal Judge on August 1 ruled that the CIA should not be held in contempt of court for destroying videotapes allegedly showing the torture of detainees during interrogations (CNN). However, the judge ordered the agency to pay certain legal fees for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which had sought the release of information about the CIA's secret detention program and treatment of detainees. 

Hariri assassination suspects' photographs released

On July 29 the U.N.-backed tribunal tasked with investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri made public the photographs and biographical information of the four indicted suspects in the killing, who are believed to be members of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah (AFP, AJE, AP, LAT, CNN, Reuters, BBC). Although the suspects' names had previously been released, prosecutor Daniel Bellemare reportedly argued that the release of more detailed information would increase the likelihood of their arrest.

A special criminal court in Saudi Arabia on August 1 began the trial of "Al-Qaeda Lady," the first woman in the kingdom to be charged with terrorism-related crimes (AFP). The unidentified woman is accused of joining al-Qaeda, sheltering and recruiting terrorists, and "financing terror." On August 4, Saudi authorities said that al-Qaeda member Abdel-Salam Rashed al-Farraj,  one of the kingdom's most-wanted terrorist suspects, has returned to Saudi Arabia from abroad and turned himself in to authorities (AP). And a local Saudi news agency reported on July 31 that only ten of an original 129 Saudi detainees are still being held at Gitmo (AFP).

Trials and Tribulations

  • A Northern Irish man was charged on August 4, two days after his arrest in Belfast, with terrorist offences including possession of firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life, and offences under the explosive substances act (BBC, Bloomberg). Three men and a teenager were arrested on August 3 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland on suspicion of links to republican terrorism, and a rifle was found in the vehicle of one of the suspects (Guardian, BBC).  
  • The Chinese government has alleged that the militants responsible for two attacks on July 30 and 31 in the western province of Xinjiang that left at least 14 people dead, were Islamic extremists trained in Pakistan (AJE, Reuters, BBC, LAT, WSJ, AJE, Reuters). Chinese police reportedly pursued and then shot dead two suspected attackers in the city of Kashgar on August 1 (NYT, AP, Reuters, Guardian).  
  • The Obama administration is reportedly considering easing anti-terrorism rules that threaten prosecution for U.S.-funded organizations operating in Somalia that pay taxes or tolls to the Somali militant group al-Shabaab, in order to accelerate the movement of aid in the drought-wracked country (Post).
  • The U.S. Treasury Department on July 29 blacklisted two members of al-Shabaab, American Omar Hammami and Hassan Mahat Omar, freezing any U.S. assets they hold and preventing Americans from doing business with them (AP).
  • Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) confirmed on August 2 that one of its militants, the son of onetime key Algerian Islamist figure Ali Belhadj, was shot by Algerian security forces during an attempted suicide bombing (AP).
  • A top Indonesian counterterrorism official said today that suspected Bali bomb plotter Umar Patek has admitted to building bombs for the attack and given investigators in Pakistan information on other attacks in Indonesia (AP, AAP).