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- By Jennifer RowlandJennifer Rowland is a research associate in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.
Obama sidesteps NDAA detainee provision
President Barack Obama on February 28 issued guidelines for situations in which the FBI, instead of the military, can retain custody of an al-Qaeda-linked terrorism suspect who is not a U.S. citizen (AP, AFP, WSJ, CNN, NYT). The new guidelines effectively nullify the detainee provisions in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act that mandated military custody for any terrorism suspect believed to have ties to al-Qaeda, in a move that angered many of the Republicans who supported the provisions.
A Pakistani-born former resident of Baltimore and current Guantánamo Bay detainee, Majid Khan, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to being a courier for al-Qaeda and training to carry out suicide attacks, becoming the first high-value detainee to accept a plea deal, which guarantees Khan a lighter sentence in exchange for his testimony against other terrorist suspects (AP, BBC, NYT, ET, AJE, CNN, Reuters, Post, Miami Herald). The Post’s Peter Finn examined on March 1 the impact this plea deal could have on the debate over using military commissions to prosecute terrorist suspects versus using civilian courts (Post).
Guantánamo commander Rear Adm. David Woods said on March 1 that a copy of the English-language jihadist magazine Inspire previously reported to have been found in the detention camp never actually made it into the hands of any detainees (Miami Herald). His statement came as a bit of a surprise because in January a military prosecutor used the presence of the magazine in the camp as justification for Woods’ controversial policy of inspecting mail sent to the detainees from their attorneys.
Cairo airport authorities mistake man for al-Qaeda leader
Authorities at the Cairo International Airport on February 29 arrested a man who arrived from Pakistan by the name Mohammad Ibrahim Makkawi, the same name listed as an alias of al-Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel (AP, Post, CNN). Egyptian authorities later clarified that Makkawi was not Saif al-Adel, but was wanted for questioning in Egypt over his involvement with an Egyptian jihadist group that fought against the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak in the early nineties.
Indian police on February 29 arrested two men accused of planning to bomb public places in the capital city of New Delhi, and alleged to belong to a local terrorist cell sponsored by the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (AP, BBC, Hindustan Times, Dawn). Both suspects were identified as Indian nationals, and were carrying explosives and coded messages when they were seized.
Authorities in Nairobi are hunting for a woman suspected of planning a terrorist attack against civilians in Mombasa last December, who has used three different identities, including that of Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of one of the 7/7 London Underground suicide bombers Germaine Lindsey (Guardian, Independent, Tel, AP). A senior police officer in Nairobi said the woman is "not a small fish," and plays a significant role in an al-Shabaab-linked terrorist cell in Kenya.
Jose Pimentel indicted in state court
Jose Pimentel, who was arrested last year as he allegedly got close to completing three pipe bombs he planned to detonate in New York City, has been formally indicted by a grand jury in Manhattan on charges of weapons possession and conspiracy as a crime of terrorism, authorities said on February 29 (NYT, Reuters, AFP). Pimentel is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from the Dominican Republic, who converted to Islam and went by the name Muhammad Yusuf, and is described as a "lone wolf" by police. The BBC featured a story on February 29 on the increasing use by U.S. authorities of undercover sting operations to catch suspected terrorists (BBC).
Iraqi refugee Mohaned Shareef Hammadi, who is accused of conspiring to send weapons from the United States to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), allegedly boasted to a confidential informant about having worked with insurgents in Iraq placing IEDs in order to kill U.S. soldiers, according to an FBI search warrant application obtained by the Associated Press (AP). Hammadi is scheduled to go on trial in Bowling Green, Kentucky accused of 12 charges on July 30, while his co-conspirator Waad Ramadan Alwan pleaded guilty to 23 terrorism-related charges in December, and was to be sentenced on April 3, though his lawyers have requested a sentencing delay (AP).
The New York City Police Department is coming under increasing scrutiny for its secret surveillance of Muslims living in the Northeast, revealed in a series of articles written by the Associated Press’ investigative team, which detail the motivations and tactics involved in police monitoring of mosques, Muslim student groups, and cafes frequented by Muslims (AP, NPR). Several civil rights groups, as well as government officials, have called for formal investigations into the legality of the NYPD’s actions, as it was revealed on February 27 that millions of dollars in White House funds might have been helped pay for the surveillance efforts (AP). NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly on February 27 defended his department’s intelligence program, accusing critics of having "short memories as to what happened here in 2001 (NYT). And U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on February 28 that the Justice Department will review the allegations to decide whether they warrant an official investigation (AP).
Trials and Tribulations
- A French court on February 27 tried three men in absentia who are accused of carrying out a gun and grenade attack on a Greek cruise ship in 1988 that killed nine people, three of whom were French citizens (AP, AFP).
- The prosecutor of a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri on March 2 filed a new indictment adding a fifth suspect to the list of Lebanese Hezbollah members thought to be responsible for the attack (Reuters).
- Indonesia’s top court on February 28 reinstated a 15-year jail term assigned to radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who has been a vocal supporter of violent jihad against the United States (Tel, Jakarta Globe, AFP).