The LWOT: Obama sidesteps NDAA detainee provisions

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Obama sidesteps NDAA detainee provision

President Barack Obama on February 28 issued guidelines for situations in which the FBI, instead of the military, can retain custody of an al-Qaeda-linked terrorism suspect who is not a U.S. citizen (APAFPWSJCNNNYT). The new guidelines effectively nullify the detainee provisions in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act that mandated military custody for any terrorism suspect believed to have ties to al-Qaeda, in a move that angered many of the Republicans who supported the provisions.

A Pakistani-born former resident of Baltimore and current Guantánamo Bay detainee, Majid Khan, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to being a courier for al-Qaeda and training to carry out suicide attacks, becoming the first high-value detainee to accept a plea deal, which guarantees Khan a lighter sentence in exchange for his testimony against other terrorist suspects (AP, BBC, NYT, ET, AJE, CNN, Reuters, Post, Miami Herald). The Post's Peter Finn examined on March 1 the impact this plea deal could have on the debate over using military commissions to prosecute terrorist suspects versus using civilian courts (Post).

Guantánamo commander Rear Adm. David Woods said on March 1 that a copy of the English-language jihadist magazine Inspire previously reported to have been found in the detention camp never actually made it into the hands of any detainees (Miami Herald). His statement came as a bit of a surprise because in January a military prosecutor used the presence of the magazine in the camp as justification for Woods' controversial policy of inspecting mail sent to the detainees from their attorneys.

Cairo airport authorities mistake man for al-Qaeda leader

Authorities at the Cairo International Airport on February 29 arrested a man who arrived from Pakistan by the name Mohammad Ibrahim Makkawi, the same name listed as an alias of al-Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel (APPostCNN). Egyptian authorities later clarified that Makkawi was not Saif al-Adel, but was wanted for questioning in Egypt over his involvement with an Egyptian jihadist group that fought against the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak in the early nineties.

Indian police on February 29 arrested two men accused of planning to bomb public places in the capital city of New Delhi, and alleged to belong to a local terrorist cell sponsored by the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (APBBCHindustan TimesDawn). Both suspects were identified as Indian nationals, and were carrying explosives and coded messages when they were seized.

Authorities in Nairobi are hunting for a woman suspected of planning a terrorist attack against civilians in Mombasa last December, who has used three different identities, including that of Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of one of the 7/7 London Underground suicide bombers Germaine Lindsey (GuardianIndependentTelAP). A senior police officer in Nairobi said the woman is "not a small fish," and plays a significant role in an al-Shabaab-linked terrorist cell in Kenya.

Jose Pimentel indicted in state court

Jose Pimentel, who was arrested last year as he allegedly got close to completing three pipe bombs he planned to detonate in New York City, has been formally indicted by a grand jury in Manhattan on charges of weapons possession and conspiracy as a crime of terrorism, authorities said on February 29 (NYTReutersAFP). Pimentel is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from the Dominican Republic, who converted to Islam and went by the name Muhammad Yusuf, and is described as a "lone wolf" by police. The BBC featured a story on February 29 on the increasing use by U.S. authorities of undercover sting operations to catch suspected terrorists (BBC).

Iraqi refugee Mohaned Shareef Hammadi, who is accused of conspiring to send weapons from the United States to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), allegedly boasted to a confidential informant about having worked with insurgents in Iraq placing IEDs in order to kill U.S. soldiers, according to an FBI search warrant application obtained by the Associated Press (AP). Hammadi is scheduled to go on trial in Bowling Green, Kentucky accused of 12 charges on July 30, while his co-conspirator Waad Ramadan Alwan pleaded guilty to 23 terrorism-related charges in December, and was to be sentenced on April 3, though his lawyers have requested a sentencing delay (AP).   

The New York City Police Department is coming under increasing scrutiny for its secret surveillance of Muslims living in the Northeast, revealed in a series of articles written by the Associated Press' investigative team, which detail the motivations and tactics involved in police monitoring of mosques, Muslim student groups, and cafes frequented by Muslims (APNPR). Several civil rights groups, as well as government officials, have called for formal investigations into the legality of the NYPD's actions, as it was revealed on February 27 that millions of dollars in White House funds might have been helped pay for the surveillance efforts (AP). NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly on February 27 defended his department's intelligence program, accusing critics of having "short memories as to what happened here in 2001 (NYT). And U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on February 28 that the Justice Department will review the allegations to decide whether they warrant an official investigation (AP).

Trials and Tribulations

  • A French court on February 27 tried three men in absentia who are accused of carrying out a gun and grenade attack on a Greek cruise ship in 1988 that killed nine people, three of whom were French citizens (APAFP).
  • The prosecutor of a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri on March 2 filed a new indictment adding a fifth suspect to the list of Lebanese Hezbollah members thought to be responsible for the attack (Reuters).
  • Indonesia's top court on February 28 reinstated a 15-year jail term assigned to radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who has been a vocal supporter of violent jihad against the United States (TelJakarta GlobeAFP).

Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images


The LWOT: Gitmo sees first tentative plea deal

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a 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.

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).