The LWOT: Alleged 9/11 plotter to face death penalty trial

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Alleged 9/11 plotter to face death penalty trial

Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, the Pentagon official who oversees military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, approved a new trial on Wednesday for accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and four accomplices, who could all face the death penalty if convicted (PostCNNAFPReutersAPBBC). The suspects had previously been charged in a military court in 2008, but that case was suspended when President Barack Obama had the trial shifted to a federal court in New York, a move that was eventually thwarted by opposition from Congress and the New York public.

The top military prosecutor at Guantánamo Bay has said he will request this be his last military post, in order to avoid being moved or promoted from his current position at the detention facility because, as he says, "We need to have continuity in my job" (NPR).

Poland alludes to "black site" investigation

After years of refusing to discuss allegations that they had allowed the CIA to operate a "black site" detention facility on Polish territory, Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk came close this week to admitting their existence by announcing that an investigation is underway to determine how the United States was able to "make some deal under the table" to establish the prisons (AP). Tusk insisted that Poland is a democratic nation that will follow international law, and that "this issue must be explained."

The U.S. State Department on April 3 released a previously classified memo revealing that Philip Zelikow, who was a deputy representative on terrorism issues to the National Security Council during the Bush administration, was highly critical of the administration's view that international law concerning torture did not apply to the CIA's operations abroad (AP). Zelikow wrote in his February 2006 memo that "under American law, there is no precedent for excusing treatment that is intrinsically 'cruel' even if the state asserts a compelling need to use it."

A federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia indicted former CIA officer John Kiriakou on April 5 for allegedly leaking classified information to journalists, including the identity of a former colleague involved in a secret operation to capture al-Qaeda financier Abu Zubaydah, and details of harsh interrogation techniques (APCNNNPR). The Government Accountability Project has said this is the sixth time the Obama administration has brought legal action against "whistleblowers," an "unprecedented" trend that "sends a chilling message" to other national security officers who might choose to reveal evidence of corruption or wrongdoing.

U.S. offers reward for Pakistani militant leader

The United States on April 3 announced a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and purported mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people (NYTReutersGuardianCNN).

Babar Ahmad, a British citizen wanted by the United States on terrorism charges who has been held without charge in the United Kingdom for the past eight years, admitted in a BBC interview aired on April 5 that he had taken up arms in Bosnia to defend towns against Serb fighters, but denied links to terrorism (BBCTel). In a public statement after the interview was aired, Ahmad called for his trial to be held in the U.K. (AP, Independent). On April 4 British police said they had charged two 24-year-old men, Mohammad Shafiq Ali, and Mohammad Shabir Ali with terrorism offenses for allegedly possessing a document written by the late Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, "44 Ways to Support Jihad," and for helping another suspect carry out acts of terrorism (AP, BBC).

Prosecutors in the case of Adis Medunjanin, who is accused to plotting with Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay to carry out suicide attacks on the New York City subway, have revealed that Zazi and Ahmedzay -- who have both pleaded guilty -- will be called as witnesses when the trial begins in federal court in Brooklyn on April 16 (AP).

French authorities make more arrests in crackdown on Islamists

French police detained ten suspected Islamic extremists on April 4 in the second such roundup in about a week (APCNNNYTWSJ). The arrests came a day after preliminary charges were filed against 13 other suspected jihadists who were detained last week accused of being members of the banned group, Forsane Alizza, or Knights of Pride, and plotting to kidnap a Jewish magistrate (BBCAFPReutersAP).

The trial of French nuclear physicist Adlène Hicheur for allegedly "associating with criminals in relation to terrorist activities" ended on March 30, though the three-judge panel will not announce a verdict until May 4 (AP). Prosecutors sought a six-year prison sentence for Hicheur, who has already spent two and a half years in custody awaiting trial.

Canadian authorities on April 5 approved the extradition of Hassan Diab, a sociology professor wanted in France for his alleged role in the 1980 bombing of a synagogue in Paris that killed four people (AFPToronto Star).

A Turkish court agreed on April 3 to try against 193 people accused of maintaining links to the urban wing of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, in a case that has sparked criticism of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist government for trying to stifle free speech (ReutersBloomberg).

Trials and Tribulations

  • One of al-Qaeda's main online forums came back online on April 4 after going down for almost two weeks, the longest pause for such sites as yet, while five similar forums remained offline (Post).
  • Terrorism experts said on April 3 that an image of New York City with the words "Al Qaeda Coming Soon Again in New York" that appeared on an Arabic-language website on April 2 was not likely to be in reference to any specific threat (NYT).
  • China's Ministry of Public Security added six ethnic Uighurs to its list of terrorists on April 5, accusing them of being senior members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which China considers an international terrorist group (APReuters, BBC).

Janet Hamlin-Pool/Getty Images


The LWOT: Christian militia members acquitted

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.

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 (NYTAJECNNAP). 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 (ReutersBBCAPCNNWSJAP).

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 (NYTToronto StarCTV). 

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 (APGuardian).

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 (APReuters). 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 (APGuardian). 

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 (APGuardianBBCAFP). 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 (APBBC). 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" (AFPAPReuters).

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 (APTel).

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 (TelAP, ReutersAFP).  

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 (TelRFERL). 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 (ReutersAPNYT). 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).

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images