The LWOT: Tarek Mehanna convicted on all charges

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Tarek Mehanna convicted on all charges

An American citizen of Pakistani descent, Tarek Mehanna, was convicted on December 20 by a federal jury in Boston of four terrorism-related charges, including conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, for allegedly traveling to Yemen in 2004 to receive terrorist training as well as translating and disseminating jihadist propaganda online (APNYTAFP). Mehanna could face life in prison when he is sentenced on April 12, though his lawyers plan to appeal the verdict.

Oytun Ayse Mihalik, a California resident of Turkish origin, was indicted on December 22 on charges of providing material support to terrorists for allegedly sending money to an individual in Pakistan knowing that the funds would be used to plan and carry out attacks against American troops (APCNNLAT). Mihalik, who was detained at the Los Angeles International Airport on August 27 before she could board a flight to Turkey, is accused of sending $2,050 in three separate transfers over three weeks in late 2010 and early 2011.

FBI Special Agent Maged Sidaros testified in December that he insisted his team's so-called "clean" interrogation in 2010 of Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed, an Eritrean man detained in Nigeria, be entirely independent of the "dirty" interrogation conducted by a separate American team before Sidaros' arrival (NYT). Ahmed's defense attorneys have argued that all statements made by their client were involuntary and should be ruled inadmissible, but Sidaros' claims of complete ignorance of the content of the earlier interrogation could convince the judge to admit the statements Ahmed made after waiving his Miranda rights during the "clean" interrogation.

Defense attorneys rested their case on December 21 in the hearing to decide whether or not to court-martial Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, whose charges include "aiding the enemy" for allegedly downloading hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic cables and sharing them with the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks (AP). The defense portrayed Manning as "troubled," saying he shouldn't have had access to classified material or even been permitted to serve in Iraq; a senior military officer will decide whether or not he will face a court-martial. Politico's Josh Gerstein looks at the potential impact of Pfc. Manning's statement that he was paid for the files he allegedly gave to WikiLeaks (Politico).

The Los Angeles Times' Kim Murphy had a must-read on December 22 telling the story of how Alaskan Paul Rockwood Jr. went from being a friendly neighbor to a convicted terrorist, serving eight years in a federal prison for drafting a list of targets for terrorist attacks (LAT). Rockwood contends that the list was "pure fantasy," drawn up by a fellow Muslim convert he considered his friend, but who was actually an FBI informant.

Gitmo commander orders monitoring of mail

The commander of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility Rear Adm. David Woods signed an order on December 29 that requires prison staff to read mail between military commission defendants and their attorneys, a move the defense lawyers say would violate attorney-client privilege (APWSJ). Rear Adm. Woods ordered prison guards to seize all mail between detainees expected to face military commission trials and their attorneys when he took command in August 2011, but last month a military judge at Guantánamo ordered prison officials to stop reading mail between alleged USS Cole bombing mastermind Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and his lawyers.

Lawyers for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri filed a legal motion on December 14, which was released December 22, requesting their client be allowed to have his shackles removed during meetings with his attorneys to prepare his defense case (AP). And a federal judge on December 22 threw out a lawsuit brought by former Guantánamo detainee Abdul Rahim Abdul Razak al-Janko to seek damages for alleged torture and other abuses at detention facility, on the grounds that the federal courts don't have jurisdiction over allegations by foreigners concerning detention (Reuters).

Members of Congress demand inquiry into reported CIA-NYPD spying

A letter signed by 34 members of Congress was sent to the Department of Justice and the House Judiciary Committee on December 21 asking for an investigation into thereported collaboration between the CIA and the New York Police Department to spy on Muslims in the New York City area (AP). And New York Times reporters Charlie Savage and Scott Shane on December 20 sued the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act for "at least one legal memorandum" believed to have been written by government officials on the permissibility of using targeted killing as a policy tool (CNS).

A U.S. appeals court on December 29 affirmed the constitutionality of a 2008 law granting legal immunity to telecommunication companies that helped the National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdrop on the emails and telephone conversations of Americans without a warrant (AP). And Manhattan federal judge George Daniels on December 22 ruled in a $100 billion case brought by families of 9/11 attack victims that al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Iran are liable for their roles in the deadly attacks (AP). Judge Daniels ordered a magistrate judge to handle the setting of compensatory and punitive damages, though it is extremely unlikely that any money will ever be received from the three defendants. 

President Barack Obama on December 31 signed into law the controversial National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), despite "reservations" about the limits the bill places on the handling of suspected terrorist detainees (APAJELATNYT). He said in a signing statement that his administration "will interpret and implement" provisions in such a way that allows the government "flexibility" to combat terrorism, and "upholds the values" of the United States.

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) is reportedly implementing a new airport screening process called PreCheck, which looks to streamline airport security procedures by using travelers' backgrounds to determine their threat level, and have trained 3,000 agents to identify suspicious behavior by passengers (NYT). The background information required for PreCheck includes frequency of travel and how one paid for the ticket among other details, but critics worry that this could allow sleeper terrorists to go undetected, or that behavioral analysis could encourage racial profiling.

For the first time, a U.S. government advisory board has asked scientific journals to censor some details of experiments in which scientists created a strain of the deadly A(H5N1) virus, which causes bird flu, that can be easily transmitted through the air, for fear of the being used by terrorists to cause epidemics (NYT). Journal editors say they are cooperating with the government's request, and do not consider it to be censorship as long as the information is made available to other important scientists around the world for further research.

Swedish journalists sentenced for terrorism in Ethiopia

An Ethiopian court on December 21 convicted two Swedish journalists of supporting terrorism after they were captured in July by Ethiopian troops during a clash with an ethnic Somali rebel group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), considered by the country's authorities to be a terrorist organization (APReutersAFPAJECNN). Reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson admitted to entering Ethiopia illegally, but insisted that they were only collecting news, while Sweden immediately called for their release and the United States expressed "concern" over their conviction (TelAFP). The ONLF, to no avail, also called for the release of the "innocent Swedish journalists;" the two were sentenced to 11 years in prison each on December 27, sparking outcry from international rights groups (AFPReutersAPGuardianBBCCNN,Independent). 

Mauritania on December 28 issued an international warrant for the arrest of Mustapha Ould Limam Chafi, an opponent of Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, for allegedly financing and sharing intelligence with terrorist groups in the Sahel (AFP). Warrants were also issued for three Mauritanians believed to be leaders in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or its splinter groups: Hamada Ould Mohamed Kheirou, Elhacen Ould Khlil and Vawaz Ould Ahmed. Mustapha Ould Limam Chafi called the accusations against him "unacceptable defamation," and plans to sue President Abdel Aziz (AFP).

Chinese police officers on December 28 killed seven men they called "kidnappers" and "terrorists" in a remote area of Xinjiang Province in order to free two hostages taken by the men, who purportedly kidnapped two herdsmen and forced them to guide the group through the mountains so they could receive jihadist training in Central Asia (APTel,LATReutersBBCNYT). However, Radio Free Asia later reported that the group may have actually consisted of Chinese Muslim Uighurs attempting to flee persecution in their home country (NYTCNNRFA).

A Tajik court on December 26 convicted 53 people, 43 of whom were identified as members of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), on terrorism charges for their alleged involvement in a September 2010 suicide car bomb attack (Reuters).

Student arrested at U.K. airport

An unnamed Pakistani student was arrested at Birmingham International Airport in the United Kingdom on December 20 after arriving on a flight from Dubai "on suspicion of being in possession of a document likely to be of use to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism," according to a police statement (AFPTelAP,Independent). The 22-year-old was released on bail the following day, as he was not considered an immediate danger to the community (BBC).

British judges on December 22 told the government it has four weeks to secure the release of Yunus Rahmatullah, a Pakistani man held by U.S. forces in Afghanistan originally accused of membership in Lashkar-e-Taiba, but cleared for release last year (AP). The ruling came in response to a habeas corpus petition by the U.K. legal charity Reprieve, on the grounds that the evidence against Rahmatullah is insufficient for his detention.

CNN's Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank reported on December 30 that al-Qaeda's central leadership has sent veteran militants, including a man formerly detained in Britain on terrorism charges, to Libya in order to establish a jihadist force there (CNN). The man, identified only as "AA," was detained under a "control order" in the United Kingdom following the July 2005 London terrorist attacks, but left Britain in late 2009 when the order lapsed, and has reportedly been able to mobilize 200 fighters so far in Libya.

Trials and Tribulations

  • Authorities in Bangkok, Thailand detained, released on bail, and then again detained "Red Shirt" leader Arisman Pongruangrong, who is accused of terrorism for his role in the violent 2010 political rallies, during which more than 90 people were killed (AFP).
  • Two people were arrested in Nigeria on December 27 in connection with a series of explosions on Christmas Day that targeted church-goers near the capital city of Abuja, killing at least 35 people (BloombergAPNPR).
  • Argentina on December 28 signed into law a broad definition of terrorism that allows authorities to punish anyone who "terrorizes" the population, sparking fears that the law could be abused for political reasons (Reuters).

William B. Plowman/Getty Images


The LWOT: Iraqi VP wanted on terrorism charges

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.

The LWOT will be taking a break to wrap some presents, and will be back on January 3rd. Happy Holidays!

Iraqi VP wanted on terrorism charges

An Iraqi judicial committee said to be under the control of Shi'a Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on December 19 issued an arrest warrant for the country's vice president and highest ranking Sunni official, Tariq al-Hashemi, on terrorism charges (AP, , Guardian,AJECNNReutersTelAFP). Three men identified as al-Hashemi's bodyguards appeared on state television for a half-hour confession of their roles in attacks on several Shi'a officials since 2009, which they said were ordered and funded by al-Hashemi (NYTWSJ). The accusations are creating severe political and sectarian tensions in Iraq just days after the last U.S. troops exited the nation.

The United States on December 16 turned over to the Iraqi government their last remaining detainee in Iraq, Ali Musa Daqduq, who is a suspected member of the Lebanese Hezbollah and accused of masterminding an attack that killed five American soldiers in Karbala, Iraq in 2007 (NYTAJEWSJPostLATAPReutersCNN). The Obama administration has struggled to decide whether to bring Daqduq back to the United States to face a military trial, finally saying on December 16 that Iraqi law would not allow it, a development that has sparked criticism of the administration.

Norwegian prosecutors on December 19 said they would seek an 11-year sentence for a Norwegian citizen of Chinese Uigur origin, Mikael Davud, the alleged mastermind of a plot to attack the offices of Jyllands Posten, the Danish newspaper that printed controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in 2005 (AFPReuters). Prosecutors recommended five-year sentences for each of Davud's accused co-conpsirators, Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak, an Iraqi Kurd residing in Norway, and David Jakobsen, an Uzbek also residing in Norway; all three suspects have pleaded not guilty.

Nigerian police arrested 14 suspected members of the extremist group Boko Haram after one suspected member discovered his home was under surveillance on December 17 and organized other members to attack local police, resulting in a shootout that killed three police officers and four militants (BBCAFPGuardianReuters).

Report: Deal with Taliban could involve Gitmo detainee transfers

Reuters reported on December 19 that senior U.S. officials have confirmed ongoing secret talks with the Afghan Taliban to reach a reconciliation agreement that could include transferring an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners from the Guantánamo Bay detention center to the Afghan government (Reuters). The 10-month dialogue process has reportedly reached "a critical junction" at which a political end to the Afghan war could be agreed upon. However, a senior Afghan Taliban official later denied that the group had been in any secret talks with the U.S government (Reuters). 

The Associated Press' Pete Yost on December 18 examined the newly passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), pointing out that the new law requiring military custody for terrorist suspects tied to al-Qaeda and its affiliates does not apply to U.S. citizens or to lawful U.S. residents (AP). The bill also leaves the executive branch with the ability to try foreign terrorist suspects in U.S. civilian courts, but defense and intelligence officials have voiced concern over questions left unanswered by the bill that could complicate terrorism investigations. Lawfare Blog's Benjamin Wittes and Robert Chesney have an invaluable list of NDAA FAQ (Lawfare).

An Iraqi refugee living in Bowling Green, KY, 30-year-old Waad Ramadan Alwan, pleaded guilty on December 16 to 23 terrorism-related charges, including conspiracy to kill Americans abroad, attempting to provide material support to terrorists, and conspiring to kill U.S. troops using explosives (WSJAPReuters).

Jurors in the case of Tarek Mehanna, who is accused of disseminating jihadist propaganda on the Internet and traveling to Yemen in 2004 to undergo terrorist training, began deliberating on December 16 (APReuters). In his closing arguments, one of Mehanna's defense attorneys attempted to convince the jury that what Mehanna was doing was "independent advocacy" not "in coordination with or at the direction of" a terrorist organization, a condition necessary to convict Mehanna on charges of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.

The hearing to decide whether Pfc. Bradley Manning will face a court martial on charges of aiding the enemy and violating the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeals enters its fifth day on December 20 (GuardianBBCAPGuardianReuters,CNNPostAP). Witnesses so far have debated the evidence allegedly found on Manning's computer, including at least 100,000 classified cables that do not appear to have been released, and emails between Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in which Manning expressed a desire to lift "the fog of war" by releasing the documents.

Trials and Tribulations

  • Pakistani police in Lahore arrested an Iranian citizen suspected of being a terrorist on December 16 (ET).
  • Turkish state media reported on December 19 that security forces had killed around 20 separatist militant members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) (AP).
  • The United Kingdom is reportedly planning on overhauling its terrorism threat-level five-point scale, which research has shown to be widely misunderstood and unrelated to the number of tips provided by the public on terrorism plots (AP).