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RAMSTACK: Terror cases likely to pile up in courts
Question of the Day
The Justice Department's war footing showed in prosecutions it announced last week against foreign-born Islamic men accused of spying in the United States.
In one case, a jury convicted five men of plotting to kill members of the U.S. military stationed at Mid-Atlantic military bases. In the other case, a 67-year-old Iraqi restaurant owner in Laurel, Md., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.
As President Bush leaves office within weeks while the wars that began during his administration continue, national security analysts say the courts are likely to be tied up handling terrorism threats long after the nation gets a new commander in chief.
"The mainstream thinking is that al Qaeda is continuing to look for opportunities to attack the United States," said Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East specialist for the Congressional Research Service, a research agency for Congress. "Al Qaeda wanted to change the U.S. way of life before the United States was ever in Iraq and Afghanistan."
If there is a change in spying patterns, it is most likely to involve the Iraqis, he said.
Mr. Bush identified former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as a threat that needed to be neutralized. President-elect Barack Obama has set a goal of getting the United States military out of Iraq.
While the antagonism with Iraqi agents is likely to diminish as the war subsides, he said, al Qaeda's hostility is deeply rooted in religious beliefs.
"I don't see much change," Mr. Katzman said. "None of the official security institutions of the United States have given any signal they're going to drop their guard because we have a new president."
Last week's convictions were part of an increasing number of prosecutions of accused terrorists or spies, according to attorneys who participated in the prosecutions.
Unlike the financial schemes and drug busts commonly prosecuted by the Justice Department, the spying cases involve sensitive issues of international politics and terrorism. They are handled by attorneys in the department's national security section.
"This is the sort of case we didn't see before the war," said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, referring to the Laurel restaurant owner. "The evidence came through the military to the FBI. Then we worked through the FBI to develop the evidence that was necessary to prosecute the case."
Saubhe Jassim Al-Dellemy faces up to five years in prison at his sentencing scheduled for March 5.
He came to the United States as a student in the 1980s, with his education paid for by Iraq's Ba'ath Party. In exchange, Al-Dellemy was supposed to provide political and military intelligence reports to the Iraqi government.
Iraqi government documents obtained by the U.S. military identified Al-Dellemy by the code name Adam. He reported to the Iraqi government on people in the United States opposed to the Saddam regime, according to prosecutors. He also assisted in shredding documents at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington that could identify other Iraqi agents.
He used his restaurant as a meeting place for Iraqi government officials and to gather information on nearby U.S. agencies, such as the National Security Agency and Fort George G. Meade.
When questioned by the FBI, Al-Dellemy is accused of lying to conceal his spying activities.
"The number of these cases underscores the reach of Saddam's intelligence service in America and the extent to which the former Iraqi regime was concerned with defectors and expatriate groups here," said Patrick Rowan, U.S. assistant attorney general for national security.
The former Iraqi dictator was not the concern in the case of the five Islamic men convicted of plotting to kill U.S. military personnel at Fort Dix and Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and the U.S. Coast Guard base at Philadelphia.
They were arrested in May 2007 while trying to purchase four M-16 machine guns and three AK-47 rifles from an undercover FBI agent in New Jersey.
Videotapes at their trial showed them getting target practice with small arms in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains and watching videos of Americans being killed by gunfire and roadside bombs.
"These men planned, trained and ceaselessly talked unambiguously about their intention to ambush and kill U.S. soldiers," said Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra Jr.
• Above the Law runs on Mondays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail email@example.com.
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