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4 Men Charged With Being in Terrorist Cell in Detroit Area

4 Men Charged With Being in Terrorist Cell in Detroit Area

Author: Danny Hakim
Publication: The New York Times
Date: August 29, 2002

The government indicted four Arab men in federal court here today, saying they were part of a terrorist cell operating in the Detroit area and were planning attacks in the United States, Jordan and Turkey.

The men functioned as a support group for terrorist activity and a "sleeper operational combat cell," the indictment said. The cell's mission was to obtain weaponry and intelligence and establish a support network for terrorist activity, including mail drops and safe houses as well as fake driver's licenses, passports and Social Security cards.

In addition, three of those indicted worked at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

They were taken into custody shortly after Sept. 11, though one was freed for a time.

The group also was said to be trying to recruit members and help other operatives enter the country illegally.

In Seattle, the government indicted a Muslim man today on charges of conspiring to help Al Qaeda and trying to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon.

At the same time, German prosecutors brought charges against a Moroccan man accused of supporting members of the Hamburg cell suspected of helping to plan and carry out the Sept. 11 attacks.

One senior law enforcement official in Washington described the indictments in Detroit as significant in that they confirmed warnings of counterterrorism officials that there were people in the United States who were directly involved in helping global terrorists. Another official said the Detroit indictments were not coordinated with the one in Seattle.

Three of the men indicted in Detroit, all foreign nationals, lived there or in nearby Dearborn, Mich., at various times. The region is one of the nation's most concentrated population centers of Arab Americans.

A fourth man, known as Abdella, lived in Chicago and was said to have expertise in airport security and producing fake identification documents. He sent instructions to the other men in code, according to the indictment, and received money from men in Europe he referred to as "the brothers." The authorities do not know the man's full name, and he is not in custody.

The three Detroit-area men were first taken into custody days after the attacks, when federal agents raided an apartment belonging to Nabil Al- Marabh, a Kuwaiti who is in custody in Batavia, N.Y., and who federal officials contend has ties to Al Qaeda.

Among the discoveries in the apartment was videotape with surveillance footage of Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the indictment said. Previously known to have been found in the apartment were a sketch of an air base in Incerlik, Turkey, used by American forces, notes referring to the "American foreign minister," and audio tapes preaching jihad.

A hospital in Amman, Jordan, was also said to be a target of a potential attack.

The men charged today, under an indictment issued by a federal grand jury, included the three taken into custody at Mr. Al-Marabh's apartment: Karim Koubriti, 24, and Ahmed Hannan, 34, both Moroccans, and Farouk Ali- Haimoud, 22, an Algerian.

All four men were charged with providing material support or resources to terrorists and conspiracy to engage in fraud and misuse of visas. All except Abdella were also charged with fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents, as well as fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents and information.

A fifth man previously involved in the case, Youssef Hmimssa, was not charged. Mr. Hmimssa is a Moroccan whose picture was found on a fraudulent identity document in Mr. Al-Marabh's apartment.

Kevin Ernst, Mr. Ali-Haimoud's lawyer, said in an interview that Mr. Hmimssa had agreed to cooperate with investigators. Mr. Ernst said his client was not part of any terrorist cell and that Mr. Hmimssa had unfairly implicated Mr. Ali-Haimoud to save himself. Charges against Mr. Ali-Haimoud, relating to possessing fraudulent identification documents, had been dropped before today.

"The only difference between October of last year, when the government dismissed the charges against my client because there was no evidence, and today, when they issued the superseding indictments, is one snitch," Mr. Ernst said, of Mr. Hmimssa.

Of his client, Mr. Ernst added, "He's 21 years old and he worked as a bus boy and then at Edy's ice cream, and he's supposed to be the mastermind of a jihad?" (Mr. Ali-Haimoud turned 22 in July.)

Jim Thomas, a lawyer for Ahmed Hannan, said he was exploring what legal steps should be taken next but declined to comment further. Neither Leroy Soles, a lawyer for Mr. Koubriti, nor Stephen Rabaut, a lawyerfor Mr. Hmimssa, could be reached for comment.

As part of the alleged conspiracy, the Detroit-area men worked at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and familiarized themselves with its security procedures, the indictment said. Mr. Hannan and Mr. Koubriti were dishwashers at LSG Sky Chefs International, a company that makes meals for airline passengers, in the summer of 2001 until they were both injured in a car accident that they said left them unable to work, according to previous federal court documents.

Neither had access to secure areas, but the indictment said all three "attempted to locate security breaches that would allow them to, among other things, directly access airliners." In addition, Mr. Ali-Haimoud worked at an ice cream parlor that was beyond the security checkpoint.

Edward Seitz of the State Department testified at an April detention hearing for Mr. Ali-Haimoud that anyone in the defendant's position could have easily passed a weapon to a boarding passenger.

"He could have obtained a weapon from the food service area and have passed it to someone else boarding a plane," Mr. Seitz said.

Charges against Mr. Ali-Haimoud were initially dismissed after he was arrested in September because the government said it did not have enough evidence to pursue a case against him. He was arrested again in April while working at the airport ice cream shop. He was working alone when he was arrested despite a requirement that he be escorted at all times.

The original charges against Mr. Koubriti and Mr. Hannan related to phony identification documents, and they have been in custody since their initial detention. The initial charges against all three were superseded by those in today's indictment.

Some of the more than 100 audiotapes found in the apartment where the three men lived espoused a fundamentalist brand of Islam called the Salafiyya, a term taken from the Arabic words for the "venerable forefathers" of Islam. Salafists believe that much of Islam today has been corrupted and they espouse a return to strict Islamic law, and more militant adherents also believe Western governments, as well as those of moderate Arab nations, should be overthrown.

A translation of a passage from one tape, disclosed in a federal court hearing, said, "Allah, take away the Jews and the Christians, and whoever helped and stood with them."

"Allah, kill them all," it continued, "don't keep any of them alive. Destroy them with total destruction. Tear them apart."

Mr. Ernst, the lawyer, said that "there were 250 tapes, hours and hours of passages from the Koran and various clerics interpretations, and they listed those three sentences." He added: "You can find similar sentences in the Bible, where they condemn infidels. I think it was taken out of context."

In the Seattle indictment, Earnest James Ujaama, a Muslim who was born James Ernest Thompson, conspired to provide training, facilities, computer services, safe houses and personnel to Al Qaeda beginning as long ago as the fall of 1999.

A second count in the indictment involved federal firearm charges.

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