Christian militia members acquitted
A federal judge in Detroit acquitted five suspected members of a Christian militia called the Hutaree of sedition and conspiracy charges on March 27, a surprising decision that may make federal agents more reluctant to rigorously pursue such cases for fear of losing the court battle (NYT, AJE, CNN, AP). Judge Victoria Roberts scolded prosecutors for failing to provide evidence of danger posed by the suspects, and sided with the defense's argument that they had been exercising their right to free speech. The two remaining Hutaree defendants, David Brian Stone and his son Joshua Stone, pleaded guilty on March 29 to possession of machine guns, and will likely face between 33 and 41 months in prison (Reuters, BBC, AP, CNN, WSJ, AP).
Guantánamo detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is accused of masterminding the October 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing, will testify before a military commission on April 11 on his purported mistreatment in CIA black sites, though the hearing will likely be closed to the public as much of the information he will reveal is still considered a national security secret (Miami Herald).
The U.S. Department of Defense is reportedly close to transferring Omar Khadr back to his native Canada, almost a year and a half after he accepted a plea deal that ensured his release after November 2011 (NYT, Toronto Star, CTV).
NYPD gathered information on liberal activists - report
AP reporters Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo reported on March 23 that the New York City Police Department used counterterrorism measures to monitor lawful activities including meetings of liberal political organizations to plan rallies across the country (AP). Liberal activists responded with outrage to the report that an undercover NYPD officer traveled to New Orleans to attend the People's Summit, and gathered information on specific organizers (AP, Guardian).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on March 27 released records it obtained from the FBI that show the Bureau's San Francisco office collected information on lawful religious activities of the local Muslim community (AP, Reuters). Agents reportedly used the pretense of Muslim outreach in order to investigate specific groups.
The FBI has removed 876 pages of training material that includes language deemed to be offensive to Muslims and Arab-Americans, including a warning that Arabs have "Jekyll and Hyde" personalities, and instructions not to stare at or shake hands with Asians (NYT). The bureau also removed a phrase telling agents they had the "ability to bend or suspend the law and impinge on the freedoms of others," following a six-month review of 160,000 pages of training material.
The Guardian's Paul Harris reports on Pittsburgh resident Khalifah al-Akili, who was arrested on suspicion of illegal weapons possession and later accused of making jihadist statements, just after he sent an email to friends and Muslim civil rights groups that he believed he was the target of an FBI entrapment sting (Guardian).
Britain's counterterrorism watchdog, David Anderson, said in a report released on March 26 that the British system under which terrorist suspects can be placed under partial house arrest without being charged is one of the most repressive measures used in the West (AP, Guardian).
French nuclear physicist faces terrorism trial
An Algerian-born French nuclear physicist, Adlene Hicheur, went on trial in Paris on March 29 accused of plotting with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to launch attacks on a military facility or economic interests in France (AP, Guardian, BBC, AFP). Hicheur, who was arrested in October 2009, allegedly exchanged dozens of emails with a contact in AQIM named Mustapha Debchi, though Hicheur claims he was "out of sorts" at the time, recovering from a herniated disk and on morphine to dull the pain.
Hicheur's trial begins as French police detained 19 people suspected of being Islamist extremists on March 30 in a series of raids across the country (AP, BBC). President Nicolas Sarkozy promised further arrests, as part of a government crackdown following the murders of seven people this month by self-proclaimed jihadist Mohammed Merah in Toulouse. And on March 29, the French government banned four high-profile Muslim clerics from entering the country, Saudis Ayed bin Abdallah al-Qarni and Abdallah Basfar, Egyptian Safwat al-Hijazi, and former mufti of Jerusalem Akrama Sabri, for their "positions and statements calling for hatred and violence" (AFP, AP, Reuters).
German-Afghan Ahmad Wali Siddiqui, who is on trial in Germany for his alleged links to al-Qaeda, told the court on March 26 that he had sent money to the group in Afghanistan, but he intended for it to cover his own expenses in Pakistan, not for terrorism purposes (AP). Siddiqui also told the court that he had met senior al-Qaeda militant Younis al-Mauritani, as well as a member of the Hamburg cell that facilitated the 9/11 attacks, Said Bahaji (AP, Tel).
Spanish police apprehended a man in Valencia identified only as a Jordanian-born Saudi citizen with the initials M.H.A., who is accused of administering "one of the world's most important jihadist forums," and was considered within al-Qaeda to be the group's "librarian," according to Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz (Tel, AP, Reuters, AFP).
Massive terrorism trial begins in Kazakhstan
Forty-seven people went on trial in Kazakhstan on March 26 accused of links to little-known extremist group Jund al-Khilafah, which claims links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and made headlines recently when it took responsibility for the attacks carried out in Toulouse by French-Algerian Mohammed Merah (Tel, RFERL). Kazakh police arrested the suspects in the town of Atyrau in October and November of last year, following two bomb attacks claimed by Jund al-Khilafah.
Turkey's former army chief Gen. Ilker Basbug stalked out of a Turkish courtroom on March 27, where he was on trial accused of being one of the leaders of a terrorist network called Ergenekon, which allegedly plotted to overthrow Turkey's Islamist government (Reuters, AP, NYT). Gen. Basbug called the trial "a comedy of incompetence," and a "black stain" on Turkey's history.
Trials and Tribulations
- The Post's Greg Miller published on March 24 an in-depth profile of the longtime chief of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, who runs the covert drone program, and is himself a convert to Islam (Post).
- A dissident Ethiopian journalist accused of supporting a terrorist group defended himself as a prisoner of conscience before a court on March 28 in Addis Ababa (VOA).
- Somali police arrested a British man, Clive Dennis, on March 29 on suspicion of plotting to join al-Shabaab, but Dennis told authorities he only wanted to "go somewhere sunny where [he] could relax and hang-out with other Muslims" (Tel).
- A former Egyptian Guantánamo Bay detainee, Sherif El Meshad, who was cleared of terrorism charges and resettled in Albania two years ago has said he wants to return to his native Egypt, but that Albanian authorities won't allow him to leave (AP).