Kenyan receives life sentence for attack, al-Shabaab membership
Elgiva Bwire Oliacha was handed a life sentence in prison after he pleaded guilty in a Kenyan court on October 26 to involvement in a grenade attack on a Nairobi bus station that killed one person, and claimed that he is a member of the Somali militant group al-Shabaab (AP, Reuters, AFP, LAT, AJE, BBC, Tel). Kenyan police discovered several grenades, guns, and ammunition in Oliacha's possession when they arrested him on October 25, just one day after the grenade attack. Al-Shabaab called on October 27 for massive attacks in Kenya following Kenyan forces' invasion of Somalia two weeks earlier in an effort to "destroy" the insurgent group (Bloomberg, NYT, BBC).
The trial of Massachusetts resident Tarek Mehanna, who is accused of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, began at a U.S. District Court in Boston on October 27 (AP, NPR, CNN). Mehanna's lawyers say that his distribution of jihadist propaganda was merely an exercise of his First Amendment right to free speech, while prosecutors argue that Mehanna had plans to receive jihadist training and carry out terrorist attacks. The trial has raised questions about the line between talking about terrorist activity and conspiring to act on these thoughts (CNN, Lawfare).
Maryland teenager Mohammad Hassan Khalid pleaded not guilty on October 24 to allegations he helped a convicted terrorist known as "Jihad Jane" raise money and attempt to recruit people to wage jihad in Europe and South Asia (AP). Former Southern Illinois University student Olutosin Oduwole was convicted on October 26 of attempting to make a terrorist threat for a note that police found in his car threatening a Virginia Tech-like shooting spree if people didn't donate a total of $50,000 to a PayPal account (AP).
And lawyers for Maj. Nidal Hassan, who is charged with a shooting spree that killed 13 at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, submitted a request in court on October 27 for a jury consultant and another expert to analyze negative pretrial publicity (AP). The defense attorneys argue that both experts would help prevent stereotypes of Muslims connected to terrorism and the extensive media attention to Maj. Hassan's trial from impacting the jury's decision.
Democrats oppose detainee provisions in defense bill
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), along with eleven other Democratic senators, voiced their opposition to provisions in a defense bill requiring the military custody of terrorist suspects and limiting the government's ability to transfer detainees from the Guantánamo Bay detention facility to the United States, in an October 21 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (AP, Politico). The senators argue that the provision, which the Obama administration also opposes, denies the intelligence and law enforcement communities the "flexibility" they need to "effectively interrogate, incarcerate and bring terrorists to justice." Republican Senators, on the other hand, generally support such hardline provisions; 45 of the party's 47 senators voted last week for a (narrowly defeated) amendment that would categorically prohibit alleged terrorists from being tried in U.S. civilian courts (NYT, Politico).
Military defense lawyers for the alleged terrorist mastermind of the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri want to know if their client will be "meaningfully acquitted" or "if at the conclusions of this proceeding, the United States intends to hold the defendant, even if acquitted" (AFP, Politico). If al-Nashiri is to be held regardless of the outcome, the lawyers want jurors to be told before the military trial that even if he is acquitted, the War on Terror legal system permits the U.S. government to detain him forever because he is "allegedly" a terrorist (AP, Miami Herald, Lawfare).
Patriot Act sees opposition on 10-year anniversary
On October 26, the day the Patriot Act turned 10 years old, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the U.S. Department of Justice to force the government to clarify its interpretation of Section 215 of the Act, which gives the FBI the power to demand any "tangible thing" related to an investigation (WSJ). This part of the Patriot Act has been the subject of controversy in the past over whether it gives the government the ability to collect intelligence on American citizens beyond what is constitutionally acceptable. The FBI has increasingly been seeking court orders to access personal email and Internet usage information from Internet service providers who refuse to release customer data without a judge's approval (Post). The requests for information are made under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
A Muslim rights group, Muslim Advocates, is also calling for reform of the Patriot Act, which has been accused of denying Americans their right to free speech (CNN, NPR,Post). The AP's Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman reported on October 26 that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) keeps files of information on New Yorkers who change their names from ones that sound Muslim or Arab to more Americanized monikers (AP). The department wanted to keep tabs on potential terrorists who had changed their names in order to remain under authorities' radar.
Lawyers for convicted terrorist Jose Padilla asked a federal appeals court judge on October 26 to reinstate their client's lawsuit against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for Padilla's alleged torture at a naval base in South Carolina (AFP, AP). And lawyers for an alleged al-Qaeda facilitator known as Abu Zubaydah filed suit against Lithuania in the European Court of Human Rights on October 27 over the torture their client was purportedly subjected to at a CIA-run detention facility in Lithuania (AP).
Trials and Tribulations
- Two successive bomb blasts near a music store and restaurant in a predominantly Shi'a neighborhood in Baghdad on October 27 killed at least 32 people and wounded dozens more (Post, AFP, LAT, BBC, Tel).
- Philippine troops launched a vigorous attack on October 25 on an encampment of militants belonging to a splinter of the country's armed separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, resulting in the deaths of two soldiers and at least 15 rebels (NYT, BBC, AFP, AP).
- The U.S. Air Force has reportedly been using a remote civilian airport in southern Ethiopia to launch drone attacks on militants in neighboring Somalia as the United States' drone program expands further (Post).