The LWOT: Gitmo sees first tentative plea deal

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High-value Gitmo detainee agrees to plea deal

Pakistani-born Majid Khan, who was arrested in Pakistan nine years ago and later transferred to Guantánamo, reached a tentative plea deal with prosecutors on February 22, which would give him a reduced sentence in return for testifying against his fellow detainees (NYTPost). Khan stands accused of war crimes and allegedly worked with 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who once sent Khan to assassinate former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf with a suicide bomb vest that turned out to be a fake.

Lawyers for Guantánamo Bay detainee Ammar al-Baluchi (a.k.a. Ali Abdul Aziz Ali), the nephew of self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, filed a motion on February 18 arguing that al-Baluchi's "relatively minor" role in the plot does not justify the possibility of the death penalty (APAFP). And an appeals court ruled on February 21 that the families of two Guantánamo detainees who U.S. government officials say hanged themselves may not sue officials for damages (AP).

A military spokesman confirmed on February 23 that the Obama administration has approved military commission charges of murder, terrorism, espionage and other war crimes against a suspected member of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Ali Musa Daqduq, who is accused of conspiring to train Shi'a Muslim militia groups to use roadside bombs to kill U.S. troops in Iraq (NYT). And the Pentagon's top lawyer said Wednesday that "belligerents who also happen to be U.S. citizens...are valid military objectives," and the judicial branch should not be involved in the executive branch's decision to target Americans deemed to be belligerents worth targeting (NYTCNN).

Sting operation nets Moroccan terror suspect

Amine El Khalifi, a Moroccan immigrant, was charged on February 18 with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction after being arrested the day before in a sting operation as he walked toward the U.S. Capitol building with an automatic weapon and wearing what he believed to be a suicide vest (BloombergAPPostReutersCNN,NYT). And a U.S. District Judge in Texas ruled on February 21 that Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who is accused of attempting to construct weapons of mass destruction, is mentally fit to stand trial (AP). 

A federal judge in New York City ordered on February 23 that an anonymous jury be assembled for the upcoming trial of Adis Medunjanin, who is accused of plotting with two other men to bomb the New York City subway system (AP). Medunjanin has pleaded not guilty, but his co-conspirators Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay both pleaded guilty in 2010.

Associated Press reporters Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman and Eileen Sullivan reported on February 17 that the New York City Police Department had monitored Muslim Students Associations (MSA) at colleges far outside New York's city limits, including Yale and the University of Pennsylvania (AP). Police spokesman Paul Browne said the surveillance had been carried out only in 2006 and 2007, and also produced a list of 12 suspected or convicted terrorists who have previously been members of MSAs. And on February 23, Sullivan and Chris Hawley reported that the NYPD has monitored area mosques using cameras mounted on light poles and informants - known internally as "mosque crawlers" - who reported back to the NYPD Intelligence Division on the content of sermons and the ethnicities of congregants (AP). Again, the NYPD denied that it had broken any laws during its surveillance operations, while New Jersey officials called for an investigation into the report's allegations (ReutersAP).

Lawyers for Bali bomber want charges dropped

Lawyers for Umar Patek, the Indonesian militant accused of making the bombs used in the 2002 Bali nightclub attacks, argued on February 20 that their client was not involved in the planning for the attack, invalidating the murder charge against him, and that Indonesia's anti-terrorism laws (installed in 2003) may not be applied retroactively (AP,CNN). Patek was arrested last January in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the same city in which U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden, but Patek says he had no idea the al-Qaeda leader was living there, and noted the difficulty he faced while trying to revive militant ties with groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan (APAFP).

Iraq's fugitive vice-president Tareq al-Hashemi on February 21 called the terrorism charges against him part of a "politically motivated," sectarian "black comedy," and categorically denied allegations that he ordered 150 bombings and assassinations (AJE,CNNAFP). Meanwhile, a court in Saudi Arabia on February 20 cleared a political activist, Saeed bin Zuair, of terrorism-related charges (Reuters). Bin Zuair had criticized the Saudi regime for its reliance on the United States, its corruption, and its relations with Israel, and had been in custody since 2007.

A Thai court on February 22 extended the detention of one of five Iranian suspects detained in Bangkok earlier this month after explosives they allegedly constructed for use in a terrorist plot were accidentally detonated on February 14 (AP). Thai police continue to probe the alleged plot, and Iran has agreed in theory to help identify the suspects, but many questions remain as to who was behind the plot and how it managed to slip by Thai security officials (APAFPBangkok PostCNN).

Philippine police commandos on February 21 captured an alleged member of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group, Patah Hamjak, who is accused of involvement in the beheadings of 10 marines in 2007, and a 2009 jailbreak attack that freed 31 Muslim insurgents (AP).

Twelve acquitted in Northern Ireland terrorism trial

Twelve of 13 suspected members of a banned Northern Irish militant group, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), were acquitted of terrorism charges in Northern Ireland's largest so-called "super grass" trial (ReutersCNNGuardianBBC). The judge described the prosecution's "super grass" witnesses Ian and Robert Stewart as "ruthless criminals and unflinching terrorists," and suspected that their testimony was "infected with lies," leaving authorities questioning the legitimacy of allowing "rehabilitated" militia members testify against their former comrades (Guardian).

Britain's Court of Appeals said on February 20 that it is unable to secure the release of a Pakistani national originally detained by British forces in Iraq and now being held at the U.S.-run prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, because "the Americans are not going to play ball" (APGuardian). And a British Muslim, Jermaine Grant, is expected to go on trial in Kenya on May 9 accused of planning a bomb attack in Kenya, possessing explosives, and having links to the Somali militant group al-Shabaab (BBCGuardianTelIndependent). Grant, who alleges he has been beaten and held in solitary confinement, was supposed to face the court on February 20, but faces a delay as evidence was sent to the United Kingdom for processing. British security officials believe Britons make up the core of foreign fighters waging jihad with al-Shabaab, and if they return home they may pose a threat to the U.K. (Tel).

The appeal trial began in Ottawa, Canada on February 21 for Algerian Mohamed Harkat, who is accused of links to al-Qaeda and has been fighting deportation from Canada for almost a decade (CBCToronto Sun).

Trials and Tribulations

  • Police in Terni, Italy on February 21 detained six Turkish citizens accused of links to the Turkish Hezbollah (Local).
  • A hardline Jamaican Muslim scholar named Sheikh Bilal Phillips was turned back upon arrival at an international airport in Kenya because of his suspected links to terrorism (Local).
  • U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning deferred his entry of a plea on February 23, the first day of his court martial proceedings for allegedly leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-privacy website WikiLeaks (Reuters).



The LWOT: Underwear bomber receives life sentence

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Underwear bomber receives life sentence

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called "underwear bomber" who tried to detonate a bomb hidden in his underpants on an international flight to Detroit on behalf of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was sentenced to life in prison without parole on February 16 (CNNAPNYTTelReutersAJELAT). District Judge Nancy Edmunds said Abdulmutallab -- who pleaded guilty last October -- received the harsh sentence in part because he has shown no remorse for his actions, claiming that Muslims are "proud to kill in the name of God."

Seven alleged members of an anti-government militia called the Hutaree went on trial in Detroit on February 13 accused of stockpiling weapons and holding militant training sessions in preparation for a war against the U.S. government (APNYTReuters). An FBI agent testified that an undercover informant was paid around $31,000 for attending the group's meetings and training sessions, during which he recorded the attendees discussing violent plots against government employees. Defense attorneys argued that their clients were simply exercising their First Amendment right to "vent" about the government.

A superseding indictment was filed against Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, who is facing trial in Bowling Green, Kentucky accusing him of perjury in addition to the terrorism charges he faces for allegedly trying to send weapons and money to members of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AP). A federal judge in Colorado denied bail for Uzbek refugee Jamshid Muhtorov, who is accused of providing material support to the Islamic Jihad Union, which is a designated foreign terrorist organization that fights NATO forces in Afghanistan (Denver Post).

A self-radicalized Uzbek man, Ulugbek Kodirov, pleaded guilty on February 10 in a federal court in Alabama to plotting to kill President Barack Obama on behalf of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), to providing material support to terrorists, and to illegal weapons possession (ReutersAPFBI).

Charges filed against Pakistani Gitmo detainee

Defense Department prosecutors on February 14 filed charges against a Pakistani-born former Baltimore resident, Majid Khan, who has been held at Guantánamo Bay since 2006 accused of attempting to assassinate former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf at a mosque in Karachi, though the planned suicide attack was never carried out because Musharraf didn't show up at the mosque (AFPAPReutersMiami HeraldPost,CNN). Khan was allegedly taking orders directly from the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who may also face a military tribunal at Guantánamo this year.

Guantánamo chief military tribunal judge, Army Col. James Pohl ruled on February 13 that mail screeners at the detention facility, who have been commanded to examine confidential attorney-client correspondence, will be held in contempt of court if they reveal the contents of the mail without Pohl's explicit approval (Reuters). The commander of Guantánamo Rear Adm. David Woods, who introduced the controversial mail surveillance policy, is reportedly being moved out of his position at the military detention facility after just seven months on the job, though military officials deny that his departure is linked to the policy (Politico).

Bali bomber on trial in Indonesia

Umar Patek, the man who allegedly constructed the bombs used in the 2002 Bali nightclub attacks, was indicted in Jakarta on February 13 on charges of premeditated murder, illegally possessing firearms and explosives, and concealing information about other terrorist attacks (CNNBBCAPAFPTelNYT). Patek was arrested last January in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the same town in which Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. Navy SEALs, and was extradited from Pakistan to his home country of Indonesia in August.

Three Iranian men were detained in Bangkok, Thailand on February 14 when they accidentally detonated explosives that Thai police say the suspects planned to use against Israeli diplomats in the country, and that are similar to bombs used to target Israeli diplomats in New Delhi, India and Tbilisi, Georgia. (AP). Thai police are still looking for the Iranian woman who rented the house in which the first explosive was accidentally detonated, and another Iranian man who was seen leaving the house on the day the blasts took place (CNNBBCReutersTelGuardianWSJ).

Four people, Tame Wairere Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Emily Felicity Bailey and Urs Signer, went on trial in New Zealand on February 13 on charges of belonging to a criminal organization and illegal weapons possession for their alleged involvement in military-style training camps in the Te Urewere region (NZHeraldNZHeraldNZHerald). Police raided the alleged training camps in 2007 on suspicion that indigenous people in the region -- a historically contested part of New Zealand -- were planning to wage a separatist war against the New Zealand government.

Czech police on February 15 recommended that four suspected members of the North Caucasus militant group Jamaat Islamiat be prosecuted for terrorism in what would be the Czech Republic's first terrorism trial (Local). Three of the suspects are Russian nationals - two of whom were arrested in Berlin last year - while the fourth suspect is a Moldovan citizen.

Britain releases radical cleric from jail

Radical Islamic cleric Abu Qatada was released from a British jail on February 13 after a judge ruled last week that he could no longer be held without charge, and is now being kept under house arrest by a contingent of 60 police officers stationed outside his home (BBCReuters). Britain's Home Office Minister James Brokenshire met with Jordanian officials on February 14 in an effort to find a way around the European Court of Human Rights decision to block Abu Qatada's deportation from the U.K. to Jordan on the grounds that he would likely be abused in Jordanian custody (AP). And CNN's Tim Lister on February 14 examined whether or not Abu Qatada's espousal of extremist views should be considered support for terrorism (CNN).

An Iraqi-born cleric, Mullah Krekar, pleaded innocent in a Norwegian court on February 15 to charges that he threatened Norwegian politicians and encouraged suicide bombings (AP). Krekar founded the Kurdish militant group Ansar al-Islam, which has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department and is suspected of carrying out suicide bombings against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Trials and Tribulations

  • Three Democratic New York State senators introduced a bill on February 10 that would establish an independent inspector to oversee the New York Police Department, following reports of civil rights abuses including targeted surveillance of Muslim communities (AP).
  • Osama bin Laden purportedly told his children they "should not follow him down the road to jihad," according to the brother of bin Laden's youngest widow, Yemeni Amal al-Sadah, who is still being detained in Pakistan (AFP).
  • Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 14 that the United States will not release any Taliban militants from Gitmo as a peace-building measure with the Afghan Taliban unless he is sure they won't return to the insurgency (AP).

Vera Sadock/AFP/Getty Images