The LWOT: Ghailani receives life sentence in embassy bombings; U.K. announces counterterrorism reforms

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Must-read: Sebastian Rotella of ProPublica has produced a lengthy profile of Sajid Mir, the shadowy Pakistani figure with close links to Pakistani security forces who reportedly ran the 2008 Mumbai attacks for Lashkar-e-Taiba (ProPublica).  

Ghailani receives life sentence in embassy bombings

A federal judge on Jan. 25 sentenced Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a former CIA and Guantánamo Bay detainee, to life in prison for his role in the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings (DoJ, Washington Post, NYT). Convicted only on the charge of conspiracy to destroy government buildings and property, Ghailani received the same sentence he would have received had he instead been convicted on the nearly 300 other charges of terrorism and murder that he faced. Defense lawyers had argued for a lighter sentence, because of the mistreatment Ghailani allegedly suffered at CIA "black sites" and Guantánamo (LAT).

Speaking about the sentencing, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced (DoJ):

Today, in Manhattan federal court, justice was served. Ahmed Ghailani is a remorseless terrorist, mass murderer, and Al Qaeda operative, and now he will spend the rest of his life in prison. As we said in court on the day this trial began, Ghailani was a vital member of the East African terror cell that murdered 224 innocent people and wounded thousands of others in the 1998 bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Finally, twelve-and-a-half years after those devastating and despicable attacks, Ahmed Ghailani will pay for his crimes.

Ghailani was the first Guantánamo detainee to face civilian trial, and his case became a central point in the debate over whether or not to try detainees in civilian or military courts. After the verdict, both sides remained firm, as advocates of civilian trials expressed satisfaction with the verdict, and opponents reiterating their case that Ghailani’s conviction on only one count was, as Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) put it, a "near-disaster" (National Journal, BBC).

Despite the ever-swirling controversy around closing Guantánamo and a recent law banning funds for the transfer of detainees to the United States, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this week that the United States remains "absolutely committed" to closing the prison (AFP). And for nearly two weeks some Guantánamo detainees have been staging a "sit-in" to protest their confinement, refusing to return to their cells at night (The Canadian Press).  

U.K. to reform controversial terror laws

British Home Secretary Theresa May announced a series of reforms to controversial counterterrorism policies on Jan. 26, focusing on reducing pre-charge detention, "control orders," stop-and-search powers and surveillance, and the power to ban extremist organizations (BBC, AJE, AFP). However, much of the debate surrounding the proposed reforms focused on the control orders, a system under which terrorism suspects (currently eight are subject to the orders) who cannot be brought to trial have their movements, communication and travel controlled by British authorities.

Under the new plan, called "terrorism prevention and investigation measures," the curfew time for suspects will be reduced to eight to 10 hours from 16, suspects will be allowed to use phones and internet (as long as authorities have the passwords to all accounts) and restrictions on travel will be eased (Guardian, Telegraph). The budget for surveilling those subject to these measures could reportedly be increased by $30 million (NYT).

The opposition Labour Party attacked Britain’s coalition government for backing away from tough security policies during a time of heightened threats, while human rights groups and some commentators attacked the government for not going far enough in making changes (The National, BBC, Guardian). The BBC this week looks at how other countries around the world deal with thorny legal issues related to terrorism (BBC).

Also this week, the Guardian reported that since 2007 eight British citizens have been subject to "deprivation of citizenship" orders due to suspicions of terrorist involvement (Guardian). The orders ban the individuals from returning to the U.K. from abroad.

NW Flight 253 trial to start in October

In a hearing at a Detroit federal courtroom Jan. 25, Judge Nancy Edmunds set Oct. 4 as the trial date for Nigerian Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused of attempting to set off a bomb hidden in his underwear about Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day, 2009 (CNN, WSJ, AP, Reuters). At the hearing, Abdulmutallab, who pled not guilty despite having previously given information to investigators about his terrorism training in Yemen, insisted on representing himself despite the urgings of Judge Edmunds (AFP, Bloomberg, DFP).

Investigations continue into Russia blast

Russian authorities reportedly have a suspect in the planning of the suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport that killed 35 and wounded nearly 200 on Jan. 24, an ethnic Russian member of a North Caucacus militant group, Nogai Jamaat (BBC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Other sources claim the blast was perpetrated by Chechens or individuals from neighboring regions who had trained at camps in Pakistan (Telegraph). As Russian leaders condemned the bombing and promised vengeance, some commentators are looking again at Russia’s anti-terrorism tactics and failure to end the long-running conflicts in several parts of the Caucasus (NYT, NYT, Reuters, BBC, BBC). Russia’s parliament today will likely pass a bill to "color-code" the terrorist threat level in the country (AP).  

Trials and Tribulations

  • A federal judge this week re-sentenced Mohamad Hammoud, the first person ever convicted under the 1996 law banning the provision of "material support" to terrorist groups (AP). Hammoud, sentenced to 155 years in prison for giving $3,500 to the terrorist group Hezbollah, will instead serve an additional 30 years in prison before likely being deported to Lebanon. 
  • In a 28-minute speech released last weekend on jihadi internet forums, a man identified tentatively as Ustadh Ahmad Farooq, al Qaeda’s head of "media and preaching" in Pakistan, reportedly said that drone strikes in the country were costing al Qaeda fighters and territory (NPR).
  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s much-maligned "color-code" terrorism threat warning system will be phased out by April 27, to make way for a newer, more targeted, more specific threat warning system (AP, ABC, Reuters, Washington Post).
  • Spanish authorities have arrested a Pakistani man linked to a passport-forging ring that produced documents for Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Sri Lankan group the Tamil Tigers (AP).
  • A secret Saudi Arabian investigation into illicit funding of political campaigns has reportedly found that the Taliban and al Qaeda are still able to raise significant sums of money in the kingdom, despite efforts to stem the flow of cash to these groups (CNN).
  • A Jan. 26 bus bombing in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, killed five and injured 13 (CNN). Philippine authorities say the construction of the explosive suggests the involvement of "terror or crime groups" operating from the southern island of Mindanao.
  • Iranian authorities announced this week that they had caught two reported al Qaeda members in Western Iran, "propagating Wahhabism" – the strict Sunni Muslim religious practice associated with Saudi Arabia (The Canadian Press).
  • Researchers at Colorado State University have reportedly engineered plants to turn white if just a trace of the explosive TNT is present in the air around them (Fox News). The plants’ response time before changing colors is, however, several hours.

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