The LWOT: Georgia men charged with bioterrorism plot

Foreign Policy and the New America Foundation bring you a twice weekly brief on the legal war on terror. You can read it on foreignpolicy.com or get it delivered directly to your inbox -- just sign up here.

David McNew/Getty Images
David McNew/Getty Images
David McNew/Getty Images

Georgia men charged with bioterrorism plot

Four elderly men identified as Frederick Thomas, Dan Roberts, Ray Adams and Samuel Crump were arrested by FBI officers on November 1 in their hometown of Toccoa, Georgia for allegedly plotting to blow up government buildings and assassinate officials using ricin, a powerful toxin derived from castor beans (NYT, Post, BBC, CBS/AP, LAT, CNN, Reuters, AFP, Tel). The FBI conducted a several month-long surveillance operation, during which a confidential informant recorded the alleged ringleader Thomas saying he "could shoot ATF and IRS all day," as Adams and Crump allegedly attempted to obtain castor beans, with plans to spread ricin across Washington, Atlanta, and New Orleans among other cities. Roberts and Thomas were also charged with attempting to purchase an explosive device and an illegal silencer (AP, LAT).

The suspects told the informant that they had been inspired by a violent online novel written by right-wing militia member-turned-blogger and Fox News commentator Mike Vanderboegh (AP, LAT). The novel tells the story of a violent conflict between militia members and a government that they see as being too strict on gun control, and Vanderboegh writes in his introduction that it was intended to be a "cautionary tale" as well as a "field manual...and call to arms." All four suspects, believed to be members of a fringe Georgia militia group, appeared in court on November 2 and were remanded into custody without bail at least until a hearing on November 9 (Reuters, CNN, CBS/AP).

Georgia men charged with bioterrorism plot

Four elderly men identified as Frederick Thomas, Dan Roberts, Ray Adams and Samuel Crump were arrested by FBI officers on November 1 in their hometown of Toccoa, Georgia for allegedly plotting to blow up government buildings and assassinate officials using ricin, a powerful toxin derived from castor beans (NYT, Post, BBC, CBS/AP, LAT, CNN, Reuters, AFP, Tel). The FBI conducted a several month-long surveillance operation, during which a confidential informant recorded the alleged ringleader Thomas saying he "could shoot ATF and IRS all day," as Adams and Crump allegedly attempted to obtain castor beans, with plans to spread ricin across Washington, Atlanta, and New Orleans among other cities. Roberts and Thomas were also charged with attempting to purchase an explosive device and an illegal silencer (AP, LAT).

The suspects told the informant that they had been inspired by a violent online novel written by right-wing militia member-turned-blogger and Fox News commentator Mike Vanderboegh (AP, LAT). The novel tells the story of a violent conflict between militia members and a government that they see as being too strict on gun control, and Vanderboegh writes in his introduction that it was intended to be a "cautionary tale" as well as a "field manual…and call to arms." All four suspects, believed to be members of a fringe Georgia militia group, appeared in court on November 2 and were remanded into custody without bail at least until a hearing on November 9 (Reuters, CNN, CBS/AP).

A federal appeals court in Atlanta upheld the convictions of five members of the so-called Liberty City Seven, who were sentenced in late 2009 to between six and 14 years in jail for conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaeda (Miami Herald). The five men argued in their appeal that the replacement of a juror during their trial in April 2009 was grounds for a retrial. And a U.S. District judge in Anchorage, Alaska refused on October 31 to move the trial of three alleged right-wing militia members accused of illegal arms possession to another location out of "safety concerns," though it is unclear whose safety he is concerned about (AP).

A friend of alleged terrorist supporter Tarek Mehanna, who is accused of attempting to train with militants in Yemen in 2004 and translating and disseminating extremist material on the Internet, testified in court on Thursday that Mehanna referred to former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as a "friend" and "as being [his] real father, in a sense," and spoke of watching videos of suicide bombers and hostage beheadings with Mehanna (AP).  

Russian arms dealer guilty on all charges

A federal jury in Manhattan convicted Russian arms dealer Victor Bout on November 2 of four counts of conspiring to supply weapons to the banned militant group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to kill Americans (Post, WSJ, BBC, Guardian, NYT, AP). The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) led at least a year-long sting operation, during which it convinced two federal informants to contact Bout about a potential weapons purchase on behalf of FARC in order to get Bout out of Russia to Thailand, where he was arrested in 2008. Russia has vowed to return Bout to the "motherland" and questioned the "validity of the judicial decision" as well as the legality of Bout’s extradition from Thailand to the United States (Guardian, Tel).

A Turkish court on November 1 charged 23 people, including a university professor and a publisher, with "membership of an armed terrorist group" for their alleged links to the banned separatist group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) (AP, Reuters, NYT). The international literary community has decried the detention of publisher Ragip Zarakolu, whose publishing house Belge has long pushed the limits of Turkish law by publishing controversial books by Greek, Armenian and Kurdish authors (Guardian, LAT). They see Zarakolu as a champion of political and academic freedom, and have called for his immediate release.

Gitmo authorities reading attorney-client mail

In a November 1 letter to the deputy assistant secretary of defense for rule of law and detainee policy William Lietzau, nine lawyers representing inmates at Guantánamo Bay accused authorities at the detention facility of reading confidential communication between the attorneys and their clients (Post, WSJ). A military official said that new Guantánamo commander Rear Adm. David Woods changed the policy last month to allow officials to check the legal relevance of all detainee communications, a move the defense attorneys have pledged to fight to "the fullest extent" in court.

The military prosecutors of the alleged U.S.S. Cole bombing mastermind Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri refused to accede to the defense attorneys’ request to promise the release of their client if he is acquitted, saying that as an "unlawful enemy combatant" al-Nashiri can be held as long as hostilities continue (Politico, Miami Herald, NYT). And Canadian-born detainee Omar Khadr officially requested his transfer to a Canadian jail on October 31 as part of a plea deal he accepted in October 2010, when he pleaded guilty to throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. serviceman (AFP).

Former Gitmo guard Specialist Brandon Neely reveals in an interview with CNN correspondent Jenifer Fenton the shocking incidents of detainee abuse he witnessed at the facility, including beating and hogtying detainees thought to be resisting, but who according to Neely were later revealed to be under the impression they were being executed (CNN). Fenton also interviewed former detainees who corroborate Specialist Neely’s reports of maltreatment, one of whom spent eight years at Gitmo on what he says was false evidence before he was released in 2009 (CNN). And the former chief prosecutor for the U.S. government at Guantánamo Bay Air Force Col. (ret.) Morris Davis told a human rights conference last week that the Bush administration set up a "law-free zone" at Guantánamo, and described the interrogation techniques used at the detention center as "torture" (Guardian).

Trials and Tribulations

  • The Somali militant group al-Shabaab posted a suicide message on the Internet on October 30 believed to be from Somali-American Abdisalan Hussein Ali, claiming that Ali was one of two suicide bombers who attacked African Union and Somali troops the previous day, killing at least a dozen people (NYT, LAT, CNN, AP, AFP, Tel). The FBI has said it is looking for evidence that Ali was indeed involved in the attack.
  • British intelligence officials believe over 100 British residents have been trained by and have fought with al-Shabaab, and around 40 of them are currently active in Somalia (Guardian).
  • An Ethiopian court on November 3 dropped a charge against two Swedish journalists of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism, but the suspects still face two charges of supporting Ethiopian separatist group the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) (Reuters, AFP, BBC, CNN).
Jennifer Rowland is a research associate in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.