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- By Jennifer RowlandJennifer Rowland is a research associate in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.
High-value Gitmo detainee agrees to plea deal
Pakistani-born Majid Khan, who was arrested in Pakistan nine years ago and later transferred to Guantánamo, reached a tentative plea deal with prosecutors on February 22, which would give him a reduced sentence in return for testifying against his fellow detainees (NYT, Post). Khan stands accused of war crimes and allegedly worked with 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who once sent Khan to assassinate former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf with a suicide bomb vest that turned out to be a fake.
Lawyers for Guantánamo Bay detainee Ammar al-Baluchi (a.k.a. Ali Abdul Aziz Ali), the nephew of self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, filed a motion on February 18 arguing that al-Baluchi’s "relatively minor" role in the plot does not justify the possibility of the death penalty (AP, AFP). And an appeals court ruled on February 21 that the families of two Guantánamo detainees who U.S. government officials say hanged themselves may not sue officials for damages (AP).
A military spokesman confirmed on February 23 that the Obama administration has approved military commission charges of murder, terrorism, espionage and other war crimes against a suspected member of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Ali Musa Daqduq, who is accused of conspiring to train Shi’a Muslim militia groups to use roadside bombs to kill U.S. troops in Iraq (NYT). And the Pentagon’s top lawyer said Wednesday that "belligerents who also happen to be U.S. citizens…are valid military objectives," and the judicial branch should not be involved in the executive branch’s decision to target Americans deemed to be belligerents worth targeting (NYT, CNN).
Sting operation nets Moroccan terror suspect
Amine El Khalifi, a Moroccan immigrant, was charged on February 18 with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction after being arrested the day before in a sting operation as he walked toward the U.S. Capitol building with an automatic weapon and wearing what he believed to be a suicide vest (Bloomberg, AP, Post, Reuters, CNN,NYT). And a U.S. District Judge in Texas ruled on February 21 that Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who is accused of attempting to construct weapons of mass destruction, is mentally fit to stand trial (AP).
A federal judge in New York City ordered on February 23 that an anonymous jury be assembled for the upcoming trial of Adis Medunjanin, who is accused of plotting with two other men to bomb the New York City subway system (AP). Medunjanin has pleaded not guilty, but his co-conspirators Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay both pleaded guilty in 2010.
Associated Press reporters Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman and Eileen Sullivan reported on February 17 that the New York City Police Department had monitored Muslim Students Associations (MSA) at colleges far outside New York’s city limits, including Yale and the University of Pennsylvania (AP). Police spokesman Paul Browne said the surveillance had been carried out only in 2006 and 2007, and also produced a list of 12 suspected or convicted terrorists who have previously been members of MSAs. And on February 23, Sullivan and Chris Hawley reported that the NYPD has monitored area mosques using cameras mounted on light poles and informants – known internally as "mosque crawlers" – who reported back to the NYPD Intelligence Division on the content of sermons and the ethnicities of congregants (AP). Again, the NYPD denied that it had broken any laws during its surveillance operations, while New Jersey officials called for an investigation into the report’s allegations (Reuters, AP).
Lawyers for Bali bomber want charges dropped
Lawyers for Umar Patek, the Indonesian militant accused of making the bombs used in the 2002 Bali nightclub attacks, argued on February 20 that their client was not involved in the planning for the attack, invalidating the murder charge against him, and that Indonesia’s anti-terrorism laws (installed in 2003) may not be applied retroactively (AP,CNN). Patek was arrested last January in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the same city in which U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden, but Patek says he had no idea the al-Qaeda leader was living there, and noted the difficulty he faced while trying to revive militant ties with groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan (AP, AFP).
Iraq’s fugitive vice-president Tareq al-Hashemi on February 21 called the terrorism charges against him part of a "politically motivated," sectarian "black comedy," and categorically denied allegations that he ordered 150 bombings and assassinations (AJE,CNN, AFP). Meanwhile, a court in Saudi Arabia on February 20 cleared a political activist, Saeed bin Zuair, of terrorism-related charges (Reuters). Bin Zuair had criticized the Saudi regime for its reliance on the United States, its corruption, and its relations with Israel, and had been in custody since 2007.
A Thai court on February 22 extended the detention of one of five Iranian suspects detained in Bangkok earlier this month after explosives they allegedly constructed for use in a terrorist plot were accidentally detonated on February 14 (AP). Thai police continue to probe the alleged plot, and Iran has agreed in theory to help identify the suspects, but many questions remain as to who was behind the plot and how it managed to slip by Thai security officials (AP, AFP, Bangkok Post, CNN).
Philippine police commandos on February 21 captured an alleged member of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group, Patah Hamjak, who is accused of involvement in the beheadings of 10 marines in 2007, and a 2009 jailbreak attack that freed 31 Muslim insurgents (AP).
Twelve acquitted in Northern Ireland terrorism trial
Twelve of 13 suspected members of a banned Northern Irish militant group, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), were acquitted of terrorism charges in Northern Ireland’s largest so-called "super grass" trial (Reuters, CNN, Guardian, BBC). The judge described the prosecution’s "super grass" witnesses Ian and Robert Stewart as "ruthless criminals and unflinching terrorists," and suspected that their testimony was "infected with lies," leaving authorities questioning the legitimacy of allowing "rehabilitated" militia members testify against their former comrades (Guardian).
Britain’s Court of Appeals said on February 20 that it is unable to secure the release of a Pakistani national originally detained by British forces in Iraq and now being held at the U.S.-run prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, because "the Americans are not going to play ball" (AP, Guardian). And a British Muslim, Jermaine Grant, is expected to go on trial in Kenya on May 9 accused of planning a bomb attack in Kenya, possessing explosives, and having links to the Somali militant group al-Shabaab (BBC, Guardian, Tel, Independent). Grant, who alleges he has been beaten and held in solitary confinement, was supposed to face the court on February 20, but faces a delay as evidence was sent to the United Kingdom for processing. British security officials believe Britons make up the core of foreign fighters waging jihad with al-Shabaab, and if they return home they may pose a threat to the U.K. (Tel).
The appeal trial began in Ottawa, Canada on February 21 for Algerian Mohamed Harkat, who is accused of links to al-Qaeda and has been fighting deportation from Canada for almost a decade (CBC, Toronto Sun).
Trials and Tribulations
- Police in Terni, Italy on February 21 detained six Turkish citizens accused of links to the Turkish Hezbollah (Local).
- A hardline Jamaican Muslim scholar named Sheikh Bilal Phillips was turned back upon arrival at an international airport in Kenya because of his suspected links to terrorism (Local).
- U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning deferred his entry of a plea on February 23, the first day of his court martial proceedings for allegedly leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-privacy website WikiLeaks (Reuters).