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- By Jennifer RowlandJennifer Rowland is a research associate in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.
U.S. citizen charged with terrorism offense in Florida
A naturalized American citizen originally from Kosovo, Sami Osmakac, was charged in federal court in Florida on January 9 with one count of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction as part of an alleged plot to attack targets in Tampa, such as the sheriff’s office and a nightclub, with explosives and guns (AP, Reuters, WSJ, NYT, Tel,CNN, Politico). Osmakac was arrested on January 7 after allegedly receiving what he thought were explosives from an FBI informant, and arming what he thought was a car bomb intended for detonation outside an Irish pub, though the device had been rendered inoperable by the FBI.
A former U.S. soldier trained in cryptology and intelligence who converted to Islam just before leaving the Army, Craig Baxam, was arrested on January 6 and charged in federal court in Maryland on January 9 with attempting to provide material support to terrorists by joining the Somali militant group al-Shabaab (AP, CNN, AFP, BBC, Post). Baxam left the United States in December, and was arrested by Kenyan authorities near Mombasa carrying between $600 and $700 he allegedly intended to give to al-Shabaab.
Defense and prosecution attorneys are in talks over a possible plea deal for Jose Pimentel, who was accused in late November of several terrorism-related offenses, including conspiracy as a crime of terrorism and weapons possession, for allegedly almost completing the construction of three bombs for use against various targets in New York City (Reuters, AP, NYT). Pimentel’s case is just the second to be tried under state anti-terrorism laws passed after 9/11, and came under fire from pundits after it was reported that the FBI refused to play a role in developing the case because it doubted the threat posed by Pimentel.
White House reiterates intention to close Gitmo
The Obama administration said on January 9 that it is still committed to closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, despite failing to do so before the prison’s 10-year anniversary on January 11, as protesters gathered in front of the White House to demand that Guantánamo be shut for good (AFP, AFP). CNN’s Pam Benson explains President Obama’s plan to close the facility within a year of his inauguration, and the Republican-led congressional roadblocks that have prevented this plan from coming to fruition (CNN). Of the 171 detainees who remain at Gitmo, only seven are slated to face military commission trials, while a further 29 cases are being reviewed for possible prosecution.
The AFP recounts the story of two Afghan men accused of being Taliban members by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and detained for several years at Guantánamo before being released when U.S. authorities could not prove their links to terrorism (AFP). There are 46 detainees at Gitmo who are not expected to face trial, but have been deemed too dangerous to be released, including the two remaining Kuwaiti prisoners Fawzi al-Odah and Fayez al-Kandari and dozens of Yemenis who maintain that they were not in Afghanistan to fight with al-Qaeda (AFP, CNN). Many of the impoverished young men say they were offered money to travel to Afghanistan and told by Salafist preachers they would help reduce "religious ignorance in Afghanistan."
Former Gitmo detainee Lakhdar Boumedienne wrote in the Times on January 7 about his apprehension in Bosnia in October 2001 and the subsequent seven years he was held at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility without charge, where he says he was subjected to degrading treatment (Times).
Lawyers for the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit on January 9 seeking the release of classified videotapes of the harsh interrogation carried out at Guantánamo on Mohammad al-Qahtani, who authorities have said was supposed to be the 20th hijacker in the 9/11 attacks (AP). The lawsuit alleges that al-Qahtani was subjected to "torture and other profoundly cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," citing an FBI report that al-Qahtani experienced psychotic episodes as a result of the treatment.
Report: Iraq flaunts "confessed" terrorists, violates due process
The Times’ Jack Healy had a must-read on January 7 about Iraq’s parading of suspected terrorists – primarily Sunni men – at press briefings to show the success of Iraq’s counterterrorism efforts, an act Western analysts and officials are calling a violation of the justice system and potentially a violation of international treaties the Iraqi government has signed protecting the rights of the accused (NYT). However, Iraqi officials see the public appearances and videotaped confessions of the suspects as proof to their countrymen and to the international community that they are making progress in the fight against terrorists and insurgents.
Saudi Arabia on January 8 began the trial of 16 suspected members of al-Qaeda accused of killing a policeman, plotting to attack government officials and military weapons facilities, smuggling weapons and training militants to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan (Reuters). The suspects are just a few of several thousand arrested in the Kingdom’s clampdown on militancy between 2003 and 2006, of whom most have already faced trial according to the Saudi government, though human rights groups disagree and have said the government continues to hold thousands of political prisoners under the pretense of militancy.
U.S. intelligence officials told Bloomberg that a decrease in funds flowing from the Arabian Peninsula to the remaining al-Qaeda core in Pakistan is due in part to the Saudi government’s crackdown on terrorist financing, and that the impact is evident among complaints from al-Qaeda members over slashed salaries (Bloomberg). The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) created in 2004 is at the forefront of battling terrorist financing, working with the CIA to "gum up the works" of terrorist organizations, according to TFI head David Cohen; the recent improvement in Saudi cooperation in this effort has been a major triumph for TFI.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has named a man accused by the United States of aiding a terrorist organization, Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, as the country’s new defense minister (Bloomberg). The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Rangel in 2008 for allegedly assisting the cocaine smuggling activity of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). Finally, a terrorist alert was lifted January 10 in the Philippines capital city of Manila after a 22-hour parade of millions of Catholics passed without incident, despite authorities’ fears that the procession would be an ideal target for Islamic extremists in the country (AP).
Trials and Tribulations
- Two prominent Ethiopian opposition politicians pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges in Addis Ababa on January 9, accused of being recruiters for the banned separatist group, the Oromo Liberation Front (VOA).
- The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office warned Britons living in Kenya about an al-Shabaab terrorist plot that authorities believed was in the "final stages," as Kenyan authorities said they had disrupted plots that al-Shabaab planned to carry out over Christmas and the New Year (Guardian, Tel, AP).
- Israeli Deputy Foreign Defense Minister Danny Ayalon pledged on January 7 that Israel will treat cyberattacks the same way violent terrorist attacks are treated, after the credit cards numbers of thousands of Israeli citizens were released online by a hacker claiming to be a Saudi (BBC).