Friday, November 30, 2007

Government Tries To Introduce New Evidence Against 'Father Of The Holy War'

A two-day pre-trial hearing has been adjourned in the case of Hassan Abujihaad, with no decision as to whether the government may introduce new evidence which may have been illegally obtained and which appears to be unrelated to the charges against him.

Hassan Abujihaad, formerly of the US Navy, has been charged with giving material assistance, including classified USN information, to an international terrorist network.

During the past two days of hearings, the government has played recordings of secretly recorded conversations and heard testimony from an undercover informant.

The government now says Abujihaad conspired with his former roommate, Derrick Shareef, in planning an attack on a US Navy base in San Diego. No such attack was ever carried out.

Abujihaad served aboard the USS Benfold, a destroyer which was in the Persian Gulf in early 2001.

While serving in the Navy, Abujihaad allegedly communicated by email with Babar Ahmad, the operator of a terrorist website, from which he bought three videos via mail order.

At least one of those videos was delivered to Abujihaad aboard the Benfold, and this does not appear to have caused a problem. But when the distributor, Azzam Publications, was busted in 2004, investigators found a series of email messages from Abujihaad.

According to Dick Destiny, the feds had been looking for Abujihaad ever since 2004, when they found an email in which he called the US military "scary pussies". If so, they weren't looking very hard; they didn't find him until earlier this year, after his former roommate Derrick Shareef was busted trying to trade his stereo speakers for a box of hand grenades. Shareef allegedly planned to detonate the grenades in garbage cans in a shopping mall outside Chicago, but the arms deal was bogus; the dealer was an FBI agent and the grenades were duds. Shareef pleaded guilty to a charge involving weapons of mass destruction earlier this week and faces a minimum of 20 years in prison.

Hassan Abujihaad had been living and working in Phoenix, and using his newly chosen name (which means "Father of the Holy War") rather than his given name, Paul R. Hall. Since the feds were looking for a man with the remarkable name of Hassan Abujihaad, rather than the more common Paul Hall, it's difficult to imagine how they failed to find him until Derrick Shareef told them where he was.

But that's just one of many aspects of this story which is difficult to imagine.

Here's a look at the most recent coverage of the case:

An introduction to the issues at hand, from the Connecticut Post:

Secret records at issue in terror trial
The use of secret documents in the trial of a former U.S. Navy signalman accused of giving classified information to terrorists will be debated during a series of evidentiary hearings in federal court beginning this morning.

U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz has set aside several days to hear testimony that will form the basis for the government's case against Hassan Abujihaad, 31, once known as Paul Hall. FBI recordings and a cooperating witness are expected to try to link Abujihaad to a cohort in Chicago who planned a Christmas season attack last year on a suburban mall. That attack was stymied when the FBI arrest the Chicago man.

Abujihaad, of Phoenix, Ariz., also is accused of providing classified information to an al-Qaida support cell in London. The information was sent via computer aboard the U.S.S. Benfold, a destroyer where Abujihaad was assigned, through a web-hosting firm in Trumbull to a site rented by Azzam Publications, a Muslim-based business in London.

The indictment alleges that Abujihaad e-mailed ship movements and personnel of an American Naval battle group headed to the Middle East in the spring of 2001. He is accused of advising the terrorist cell that the ships would be sailing through the Straits of Hormuz on April 29, 2001, under a communications blackout. The indictment alleges he also informed the cell the ships would be vulnerable to an attack using rocket-propelled grenades. However, none of the 10 ships and one submarine in the battle group was attacked.

Abujihaad, who is detained without bond, was honorably discharged from the Navy in 2002.

He is represented by Daniel LaBelle and Robert Golger, two court-appointed lawyers from Fairfield County. Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, who are associated with Azzam Publications, are also under indictment and awaiting extradition from England. Kravitz has set Feb. 13 for the start of jury selection in Abujihaad's trial. He has tentatively set aside Feb. 25 to March 14 for the trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Reynolds is prosecuting the case. FBI Special Agent David Dillon, who has investigated Bridgeport drug gangs, and Senior Special Agent Craig Bowling of the Department of Homeland Security, conducted the probe after uncovering evidence on the Internet following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The New Haven Independent had Abujihaad praising an Islamic hero in secret code:

Ode To Osama
In secretly recorded phone calls that rung through a quiet courtroom, an ex-U.S. Navy sailor laughs with a friend as a sniper tears U.S. soldiers’ bodies apart, and lauds the “psychological anxiety” wreaked on the USA by his coded hero, “Under the Black Leaves.”

“Under the Black Leaves” was a thinly veiled name for Usama (Osama) Bin Laden — the man Hassan Abu-Jihaad was supposed to be fighting with his naval battle group back in 2000 and 2001.

Instead of helping the U.S. fight Bin Laden, government prosecutors charge, the former sailor leaked sensitive information about the Navy’s movements to people involved in a London-based terrorist cell.

Abu-Jihaad, 31, of Arizona, sat quietly in a bright orange prison shirt before Judge Mark R. Kravitz in New Haven U.S. District Court Wednesday as federal prosecutors rolled out phone calls, emails and a star undercover witness to build their case against him. The young ex-sailor, formerly known as Paul R. Hall, was indicted in March on two counts of providing material support of terrorism and giving out classified info related to national defense.

Abu-Jihaad has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Here we also get our first glimpse of the "informant" agent provocateur at the heart of the sting:
After lunch Wednesday, the government rolled out its star witness: A guy from New Jersey who shed his life of crime to befriend and betray suspected terrorists. Jameel Chrisman, in a plaid shirt and tight-fitting skull cap, took the stand Wednesday and described conversations he’d had with Shareef the mall-bomber and others.

Chrisman had been convicted of armed robbery and car theft before the FBI recruited him to their side. He was assigned to befriend Shareef, and ended up moving in with him in Rockford, Ill. He posed as an Islamic extremist to gain Shareef’s trust and then record days’ worth of conversations with him. The trail led him back to Shareef’s childhood mentor, Abu-Jihaad.

The government’s using Chrisman’s testimony in part in effort to establish that Shareef and Abu-Jihaad were co-conspirators in a plot to attack a military recruiting station in Phoenix and a military base in San Diego.

Abu-Jihaad’s attorneys, Dan LaBelle and Robert Golger, argue the new statements garnered from Chrisman should not be admitted as evidence. They characterized the statements as a lot of talk that showed jihadists sympathies, but did not prove any conspiracy.
Jameel Chrisman is referred to as William Chrisman in other accounts.

From the AP, a look at the grounds for Abujihaad's claim that the new evidence is inadmissible:

Hearing Focuses on Ex-Sailor's Calls
[Abujihaad's] lawyers are citing a ruling by a federal judge in Oregon that struck down key portions of the USA Patriot Act as unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled the act cannot be used to authorize secret searches and wiretapping to gather criminal evidence — instead of intelligence gathering — without violating the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Bush Administration is appealing the ruling.
A second piece from the Connecticut Post added a few more details and "explains" why the planned attacks never quite came to fruition:

Testimony says former Navy man planned attack
A former U.S. Navy signalman, already under indictment for disclosing ship movements to a terrorist cell linked to al-Quida, also allegedly discussed plans to attack the San Diego Naval base in late Oct 2006. FBI special agent David Dylan testified in federal court Thursday that Hassan Abujihaad, 31, of Phoenix discussed this plan with Derrick Shareef. Dylan said that Abujihaad knew the layout of the base because he had been stationed there. The agent said the plan was to attack a barracks or chow hall to create turmoil and then pick off service men by sniper attacks. However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Reynolds said the plans were never followed through.

That's the because the prosecutor said Shareef was more intent on lobbing grenades into a suburban Illinois shopping mall during the 2006 holiday season. The testimony came during a hearing Wednesday where U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz was to determine if the prosecution could use alleged uncharged terrorist acts against Abujihaad during his upcoming trial in February....
ABC News had some coverage of the Abujihaad case in their story about the newly guilty Derrick Shareef:

Ill. Mall Bomb Plotter Pleads Guilty
The case against Abujihaad's purports to show a complex nexus of international terrorism, as he allegedly sent the classified information on U.S. warship movements to U.K. terrorism suspect Babar Ahmad [of Azzam Publications].

Ahmad was indicted in the United States in 2004 for allegedly providing material support to Chechen terrorist groups and the Taliban. He is currently battling his extradition to the United States in British courts.

From the late 1990s until 2004, Ahmad allegedly ran Web sites for Azzam Publications, which used to carry propaganda for al Qaeda. The Azzam Web site was a key recruitment and propaganda tool for al Qaeda and mujahedeen fighters.

As for Shareef, it remains unclear how much of a threat he really is, as authorities have maintained their belief that he was acting alone in the Rockford mall plot.

At the time of his arrest last year, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said of Shareef, "If he was being directed by overseas terrorists, he wouldn't have been trading two stereo speakers to buy grenades."
The LA Times had the longest and most detailed article on the first day of the hearings:

Ex-sailor accused of plotting to attack San Diego base
According to a court motion filed by federal prosecutors that was unsealed Wednesday, Shareef and Abujihaad talked in 2003, while they were roommates in Phoenix, of attacking a military recruiting station; in 2004 proposed attacking the unspecified San Diego base with sniper fire; and in 2006 took concrete steps to pursue such an attack.

Prosecutors are seeking to introduce evidence of the alleged plot at Abujihaad's trial, set for early next month. That evidence includes wiretaps, statements from the informant -- himself a central participant in the alleged conspiracy -- and "efforts to obtain weapons and ammunition in connection with the proposed sniper attack," said the 123-page motion.

The prosecutors said Shareef and Abujihaad conspired to commit sedition, or to "put down the government of the United States, or levy war against it, or to oppose its force by authority" as well as to attempt to kill officers or employees of the U.S., particularly military members.

At Wednesday's hearing, Dillon and the informant testified for hours that Abujihaad and Shareef had talked frequently about the plot, plans to buy semiautomatic weapons and their anger at the U.S. for its treatment of Muslims worldwide. The court filing includes many snippets of those conversations, but most of the time the two men seem to be talking in code or seeking to avoid discussing details because Abujihaad suspected, correctly, that the FBI was wiretapping them.

In some conversations, Abujihaad appears reluctant to help carry out such an attack, in part because he knew FBI agents were watching him to see if he had relationships with extremists overseas. But in one taped call in November 2006, he told Shareef that he would support the alleged plot with "whatever I can . . . with whatever Allah has instilled me to . . . help out with," the court filing says.

Prosecutors acknowledged that after his arrest last December, Shareef said that his discussions with Abujihaad were "idle talk," but those comments were dismissed as "self-serving."

Prosecutors also acknowledged that in several calls, the informant appears to be initiating efforts to proceed with the plot and to buy weapons. "But that's not the only evidence the government has," said one Justice Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.
In normal times, a statement that "the informant [was] himself a central participant in the alleged conspiracy" would have been enough to support a defense of entrapment.

But in these twisted times, there is no protection for entrapment victims, especially when their "crime" involves terrorism.

And finally, coverage from Newsday of the hearing's second day:

Government plays more coded calls in sailor terrorism hearing
Federal prosecutors played secretly recorded phone calls Thursday as they tried to show how a former Navy sailor charged with supporting terrorism spoke in code about a plot to attack military personnel.

On the second day of a pretrial hearing in U.S. District Court, the government played calls between Hassan Abu-Jihaad and friends last year in which he allegedly talked in code about plotting sniper attacks on personnel and recruiting stations. Some of those calls were with former roommate Derrick Shareef, who was convicted this week in an unrelated plot to attack an Illinois mall with hand grenades.

In one call, Abu-Jihaad used the letter `L' for logistics support, authorities said. Prosecutors say his use of the phrases "cold meal" or "fresh meal" described whether a scheme was outdated or viable.
In one call, Abu-Jihaad, a left-hander, is asking specifically about obtaining left-handed weapons, prosecutors say. He also is heard allegedly pledging support to Shareef in vague terms.

"I'm down, you know what I'm saying ... with whatever I can ... with whatever Allah has instilled me to ... help out with ... if I can do that, then I'm for it ... and I'll say it again, with whatever I can give you that's beneficial I'll give it to you," he said.

But under cross examination, Chrisman testified that Abu-Jihaad never provided logistical support and acknowledged that Shareef complained that Abu-Jihaad was so passive it would take him 20 years to do something. Abu-Jihaad's attorneys also pointed out that he is heard on a call denying that he is a jihadi, an Islamic militant.
For commentary on what all this means, and an excellent overview of the case, please see Dick Destiny's "US NURSES TERROR CASE IN PRESS: Grim prospects for Hassan Abujihaad".

And if you're looking for a moral to the story, try this one: To make sure you get no breaks from the legal system, be a young black Muslim accused of helping international terrorists!