The LWOT: Two NJ men arrested on the way to fight in Somalia; Report alleges doctors complicit in enhanced interrogations

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ABDIRASHID ABDULLE ABIKAR/AFP/Getty Images
ABDIRASHID ABDULLE ABIKAR/AFP/Getty Images
ABDIRASHID ABDULLE ABIKAR/AFP/Getty Images

Two New Jersey men arrested on the way to fight in Somalia

Federal authorities at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday arrested two New Jersey men, Mohammed Alessa and Eduardo Almonte, alleging that they were on their way to Somalia to fight for the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab organization (NYT, CNN). The FBI had been watching the men since 2006, and the criminal complaint (available here) filed against the men alleges that they had purchased tactical gear, trained with paintball guns, practiced combat techniques, and discussed killing U.S. soldiers in Somalia or American civilians in the United States (Washington Post, VOA). Since 2009, many of the men's conversations were secretly taped by an Arabic-speaking undercover New York Police Department officer, who befriended the men and earned their trust (AP).

The two men appeared in a New York courtroom for a preliminary hearing June 8, and were denied bail in a second hearing in federal court June 10; they face charges of conspiring to kill, maim and kidnap people outside the United States (WSJ, NYT). Authorities have no indication that either man was in contact with al-Shabaab, and the criminal complaint alleges that both men traveled to Jordan in 2007 in a failed attempt to join up with insurgent groups in Iraq. Still, the arrests have brought attention to the growing role that foreign fighters and a "significant" number of Americans play in al-Shabaab, who now reportedly operate not only as fighters but also commanders in the group and liaisons with al Qaeda's central leadership (Washington Post).

Two New Jersey men arrested on the way to fight in Somalia

Federal authorities at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday arrested two New Jersey men, Mohammed Alessa and Eduardo Almonte, alleging that they were on their way to Somalia to fight for the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab organization (NYT, CNN). The FBI had been watching the men since 2006, and the criminal complaint (available here) filed against the men alleges that they had purchased tactical gear, trained with paintball guns, practiced combat techniques, and discussed killing U.S. soldiers in Somalia or American civilians in the United States (Washington Post, VOA). Since 2009, many of the men’s conversations were secretly taped by an Arabic-speaking undercover New York Police Department officer, who befriended the men and earned their trust (AP).

The two men appeared in a New York courtroom for a preliminary hearing June 8, and were denied bail in a second hearing in federal court June 10; they face charges of conspiring to kill, maim and kidnap people outside the United States (WSJ, NYT). Authorities have no indication that either man was in contact with al-Shabaab, and the criminal complaint alleges that both men traveled to Jordan in 2007 in a failed attempt to join up with insurgent groups in Iraq. Still, the arrests have brought attention to the growing role that foreign fighters and a "significant" number of Americans play in al-Shabaab, who now reportedly operate not only as fighters but also commanders in the group and liaisons with al Qaeda’s central leadership (Washington Post).

Report alleges CIA doctors "experimented" on terrorism detainees

A report issued June 7 by Physicians for Human Rights, a human rights organization made up of health professionals, asserts that CIA doctors recorded data on the results of enhanced interrogation and then used that information to refine the techniques used on terror suspects (NYT). While it was previously known that medical personnel observed interrogations, ostensibly to ensure the health of the detainees and compliance with the law, the report argues that medical personnel violated professional ethics and domestic and international law by conducting research on the detainees (AFP). The CIA denied the report’s findings, asserting that the detainee interrogation program was subjected to rigorous reviews by other government agencies, including the Department of Justice.

A new Guantánamo Bay at Bagram?

Julian Barnes reported this week that U.S. officials were debating a proposal that would preserve control of a small section at Bagram Air Base after the U.S. military hands control of Bagram over to Afghan authorities in 2011 (LAT). The area would purportedly be used to house and interrogate terrorism suspects captured outside Afghanistan, prompting concern that Bagram could become another site for the indefinite detention of foreign captives without legal oversight. A U.S. appeals court ruled in late May that current detainees at Bagram do not have the right to challenge their detentions, but left open the possibility that future detainees arrested abroad and brought to Afghanistan could sue for habeas rights. U.S. officials, including ISAF Commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, insisted that Afghanistan will take full control over detention operations at Bagram next year (DoD).

The first Afghan detainee trial to be held at the recently-finished Parwan Detention Center, also located at Bagram, began this week, with Afghans serving as defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges (ABC). Defense attorneys argued during the trial that U.S. soldiers have illegally arrested Afghans in their homes and illegally interrogated prisoners without receiving prior permission from Afghan authorities.

Americans arrested during terrorism roundup in Yemen

Yemeni police announced Monday that they had arrested 50 foreigners on suspicion of having connections to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in recent days, including 12 Americans (AJE). And on June 8, a federal grand jury indicted a Texas man, Barry Bujol, for attempting to deliver materials and funds to AQAP (AP, Reuters). The search warrant for Bujol, unsealed June 10 (available here), alleges that Bujol had been in contact with radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, currently on a U.S. "hit list," and had tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to travel to Yemen.

Trials and tribulations

  • U.S. Federal Judge Harry H. Kennedy’s formerly sealed opinion from last month freeing Guantánamo Bay detainee Mohammed Mohammed Hassen was released June 10; in it Kennedy deems Hassen’s continued incarceration "unlawful" and wrote that, "the evidence before the court shows that holding [Hassen] in custody at such great cost to him has done nothing to make the United States more secure" (Miami Herald).
  • .The Justice Department this week filed a motion appealing a federal judge’s decision to grant Gitmo detainee and alleged senior al Qaeda member Mohamed Ould Slahi’s habeas petition (Legal Times). Slahi was ordered free in March.
  • Syed Hashmi, a U.S. citizen who pleaded guilty in April 2010 to providing material support to al Qaeda, was sentenced on June 9. He received the maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release (BBC).
  • Britain’s current ruling coalition is considering dropping an anti-terrorist provision first passed in 2006, which allows police to detain terrorism suspects for 28 days without charge (Telegraph). If the provision is not renewed, the time limit for detention without charge could drop to 14 days.
  • Since 9/11, the Pentagon has spent $500 million to renovate the prison at Guantánamo Bay. This includes spending not only on detention facilities and courtrooms, but also on amenities for the base’s military and dependent population, including 27 playgrounds; the camp has 398 residents under the age of 18 (Washington Post).

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