The LWOT: Alleged 9/11 plotter to face death penalty trial

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Janet Hamlin-Pool/Getty Images
Janet Hamlin-Pool/Getty Images

Alleged 9/11 plotter to face death penalty trial

Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, the Pentagon official who oversees military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, approved a new trial on Wednesday for accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and four accomplices, who could all face the death penalty if convicted (PostCNNAFPReutersAPBBC). The suspects had previously been charged in a military court in 2008, but that case was suspended when President Barack Obama had the trial shifted to a federal court in New York, a move that was eventually thwarted by opposition from Congress and the New York public.

The top military prosecutor at Guantánamo Bay has said he will request this be his last military post, in order to avoid being moved or promoted from his current position at the detention facility because, as he says, "We need to have continuity in my job" (NPR).

Poland alludes to "black site" investigation

After years of refusing to discuss allegations that they had allowed the CIA to operate a "black site" detention facility on Polish territory, Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk came close this week to admitting their existence by announcing that an investigation is underway to determine how the United States was able to "make some deal under the table" to establish the prisons (AP). Tusk insisted that Poland is a democratic nation that will follow international law, and that "this issue must be explained."

The U.S. State Department on April 3 released a previously classified memo revealing that Philip Zelikow, who was a deputy representative on terrorism issues to the National Security Council during the Bush administration, was highly critical of the administration’s view that international law concerning torture did not apply to the CIA’s operations abroad (AP). Zelikow wrote in his February 2006 memo that "under American law, there is no precedent for excusing treatment that is intrinsically ‘cruel’ even if the state asserts a compelling need to use it."

A federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia indicted former CIA officer John Kiriakou on April 5 for allegedly leaking classified information to journalists, including the identity of a former colleague involved in a secret operation to capture al-Qaeda financier Abu Zubaydah, and details of harsh interrogation techniques (APCNNNPR). The Government Accountability Project has said this is the sixth time the Obama administration has brought legal action against "whistleblowers," an "unprecedented" trend that "sends a chilling message" to other national security officers who might choose to reveal evidence of corruption or wrongdoing.

U.S. offers reward for Pakistani militant leader

The United States on April 3 announced a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and purported mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people (NYTReutersGuardianCNN).

Babar Ahmad, a British citizen wanted by the United States on terrorism charges who has been held without charge in the United Kingdom for the past eight years, admitted in a BBC interview aired on April 5 that he had taken up arms in Bosnia to defend towns against Serb fighters, but denied links to terrorism (BBCTel). In a public statement after the interview was aired, Ahmad called for his trial to be held in the U.K. (AP, Independent). On April 4 British police said they had charged two 24-year-old men, Mohammad Shafiq Ali, and Mohammad Shabir Ali with terrorism offenses for allegedly possessing a document written by the late Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, "44 Ways to Support Jihad," and for helping another suspect carry out acts of terrorism (AP, BBC).

Prosecutors in the case of Adis Medunjanin, who is accused to plotting with Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay to carry out suicide attacks on the New York City subway, have revealed that Zazi and Ahmedzay — who have both pleaded guilty — will be called as witnesses when the trial begins in federal court in Brooklyn on April 16 (AP).

French authorities make more arrests in crackdown on Islamists

French police detained ten suspected Islamic extremists on April 4 in the second such roundup in about a week (APCNNNYTWSJ). The arrests came a day after preliminary charges were filed against 13 other suspected jihadists who were detained last week accused of being members of the banned group, Forsane Alizza, or Knights of Pride, and plotting to kidnap a Jewish magistrate (BBCAFPReutersAP).

The trial of French nuclear physicist Adlène Hicheur for allegedly "associating with criminals in relation to terrorist activities" ended on March 30, though the three-judge panel will not announce a verdict until May 4 (AP). Prosecutors sought a six-year prison sentence for Hicheur, who has already spent two and a half years in custody awaiting trial.

Canadian authorities on April 5 approved the extradition of Hassan Diab, a sociology professor wanted in France for his alleged role in the 1980 bombing of a synagogue in Paris that killed four people (AFPToronto Star).

A Turkish court agreed on April 3 to try against 193 people accused of maintaining links to the urban wing of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, in a case that has sparked criticism of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist government for trying to stifle free speech (ReutersBloomberg).

Trials and Tribulations

  • One of al-Qaeda’s main online forums came back online on April 4 after going down for almost two weeks, the longest pause for such sites as yet, while five similar forums remained offline (Post).
  • Terrorism experts said on April 3 that an image of New York City with the words "Al Qaeda Coming Soon Again in New York" that appeared on an Arabic-language website on April 2 was not likely to be in reference to any specific threat (NYT).
  • China’s Ministry of Public Security added six ethnic Uighurs to its list of terrorists on April 5, accusing them of being senior members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which China considers an international terrorist group (APReuters, BBC).

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