BOSTON — As a Massachusetts man charged with conspiring to support al-Qaida went on trial Monday, potential jurors were being quizzed, likely about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden and electronic surveillance of private conversations.
Tarek Mehanna, 29, of Sudbury, an affluent suburb west of Boston, is accused of plotting to get training in a terrorist camp and to kill U.S. troops in Iraq. Prosecutors allege that after Mehanna was unable to get into a terror training camp in Yemen, he began seeing himself as part of the “media wing” of al-Qaida, and started translating and distributing text and videos over the Internet in an attempt to inspire others to engage in violent jihad.
Mehanna’s lawyers say he went to Yemen to seek religious study, not terrorist training. They argue that his online activities amount to free speech protected by the First Amendment.
According to a new indictment, Colleen LaRose, 46, and Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, 31, who traveled to Europe separately to engage in violent “jihad” were linked to each other. According to the officials, LaRose (who called herself “Jihad Jane”) had invited Paulin-Ramirez to attend a “training camp.” Paulin-Ramirez was arrested last month in Ireland along with six other individuals for alleged plots to murder a Swedish cartoonist who had offended many Muslims. She was then sent to the United States where both American women are now waiting trial.
Another member of the so-called “Toronto 18” conspiracy has pleaded guilty to terrorism charges – and is about to be let go. Jahmaal James, 26, entered a surprise guilty plea in a Brampton court. Because he spent three years and nine months awaiting trial – and got a two-for-on-credit for the “dead time” – he has effectively served all the seven-year, seven-month sentence he was meted. He was sentenced to one more day.
James was arrested in 2006, as police rounded up 18 young Muslims in the Toronto area. Most of those arrested have now been found guilty of involvement in terrorism, for either attending a amateurish Toronto training camp, or for plotting to blow up military and government targets around Toronto. The scheme aimed to force a withdrawal of Canadian Forces soldiers from Afghanistan.
James faced unique charges. It was alleged that, in 2005 and at the behest of other members of the Toronto conspiracy, he travelled to Pakistan in hopes of taking terrorist training with the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group (the same group suspected of perpetrating the Mumbai Massacre in 2008). But in the end, James did not actually get to take any training in Pakistan, as he was unable to link up with any terrorist trainers. James plead guilty to participating in a terrorist group for his involvement with the other Toronto suspects.
The case of Canada’s notorious homegrown terror plot enters a significant phase in 2010 with the trials upcoming for the final six alleged members, accused of attending a training camp and plotting to bomb various targets. The Crown has alleged some of the men held a terrorism training camp north of Toronto and that others were involved in the bomb plot.
One of the remaining men is expected to have his trial by judge in January, while the other five men’s case is expected to be put in front of a jury starting in March.
The guilty pleas and the outcome of the first man’s trial will have absolutely no bearing on the last five men’s case, said lawyer William Naylor, who represents the man who will stand trial in January. The fact that those five men have elected trial by jury is breaking new ground. This is the first time an Anti-Terrorism Act case will be tried by a jury. All of the six men awaiting trial have been in custody since their arrests in June 2006, except for one, who was granted bail in August.
Four men arrested in Kenya for allegedly plotting terror attacks were released from detention in the Netherlands on Friday. The men were arrested near the Somalian border in July, thought to be in transit to a jihadist training camp and later deported to Belgium before extradition to the Netherlands. “We have not yet received any information from Kenya concerning their alleged terrorist activities”, public prosecutor spokesman Wim de Bruin told the German Press Agency dpa. “Therefore we have no legal grounds to extend their detention.” The men have been released without condition.
The three Dutch citizens and Moroccan with Dutch residency arrested in Kenya have been placed in detention in the Netherlands. A court in Rotterdam on Friday ordered their detention, a court official said. All four were to be kept in custody for 14 days, lawyer Vincent de Winkel told AFP. Following their arrest in July the men were expelled from Kenya to Belgium, and extradited to the Netherlands on August 5, 2009. They were arrested at the Somalian border allegedly travelling to a jihadist training camp.
Muslim-American groups are accusing the FBI of planting moles in mosques across the U.S.
Suspicions amongst Muslims have risen greatly since February, when Craig Monteilh publicly stated the FBI had used him to infiltrate mosques and spy on Muslims in Orange County, California. The FBI has not responded to Monteilh’s story, which leads many Muslims to believe it is true and that he may not be the FBI’s only spy.
Monteilh stated he was offered to attend a terrorist training camp in Yemen or Afghanistan by Ahmadullah Niazi of Irvine. Niazi was charged with misusing a passport, perjury, and other federal crimes last month, and has been accused of being related to a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.
The American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) has a history of working proactively with the FBI in reducing the risks of radicalism, and are thus concerned at the FBI’s lack of explanation to them and other Muslim leaders on whether this actually happened and if so, why.
While law enforcement agents at the FBI won’t comment specifically on the California case, Robert Heibel, director of the Institute for Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa. says “if they had information about someone at a mosque or church being involved with terrorism, they would have an obligation to investigate. Should the FBI give attention to potentially dangerous religious extremists?” Heibel said. “In a case like that, the agents aren’t targeting a religion. They’re targeting a potential lawbreaker.”
Judge John Sproat is expected to hear closing arguments from the Crown and the defense next week before he announces his verdict, which could be weeks or months away. Both sides are to give closing arguments next week on the 20-year-old training-camp participant at the centre of Canada’s first terror trial. The Crown has portrayed the youth as a promising and obedient rookie, while the defense has claimed he was a na_ve. Some questions have also been placed on the integrity of the police informant, Mubin Shaikh, paid $300,000 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to infiltrate the alleged terrorist cell.
The Crown has dropped charges against four adult suspects in the 2006 Toronto terrorism case. All four men signed peace bonds with curfew and passport conditions; indictments against them were then stayed. Three of the suspects admitted to attending an alleged terrorist training camp which ran from December 18 – 31, 2005. All disagreed with the Crown assessment that it was a jihadist exercise. The Crown had recently made public a videotaped speech from the camp where a ringleader urged members to band together and fight for Islam. Defense lawyers argued the exercise was amateurish and that many arrived to the camp unaware of its true purpose.
A 33-year-old Jordanian man admitted to a German court Wednesday that he had participated in internet chatroom conversations that discussed committing terrorist acts. The man, identified as Thaer A, is charged with attempting to establish an islamist terrorist training camp in Sudan, along with Redouane el-H, a German of Moroccan origin who was jailed for more than five years last month after being guilty on a similar charge. Both trials relied largely on evidence compiled through police monitoring of internet chatrooms in an international operation. On the opening day of the trial, the court sitting in the northern city of Schleswig, heard that A, whose family comes originally from the Palestinian region, was supposed to provide the financial means for the cell. Police tracked down the members of the cell by monitoring chatroom conversations, arresting A in Sweden in March last year. “I took part in the conversations,” A told the court through his defence counsel. The defence has reached agreement with the prosecution and the court on reduction of sentence.