- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2008

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld the November 2005 conviction of a Falls Church man accused in an al Qaeda conspiracy to assassinate President Bush, but ruled that he had to be resentenced.

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a U.S. citizen born to a Jordanian father, was convicted by a federal court jury in Alexandria that rejected accusations he had been tortured by authorities in Saudi Arabia to obtain a confession, and sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee to 30 years in prison.

In a major victory for the U.S. government, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the sentence after federal prosecutors argued that Judge Lee improperly deviated from federal sentencing guidelines, which called for life in prison.

The three-judge panel ruled unanimously to uphold the conviction, but voted 2-1 in ordering a new sentencing hearing. Judges J. Harvie Wilkinson III, who was appointed by President Reagan, and William B. Traxler Jr., who was appointed by President Clinton, voted to remand. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, who also was appointed by Mr. Clinton, dissented.

“We are satisfied that Abu Ali received a fair trial, though not a perfect one, and that the criminal justice system performed those functions which the Constitution envisioned for it,” the court said, citing the case as an example of the federal judiciary’s ability to handle terror trials while safeguarding individuals’ constitutional rights without jeopardizing national security.

Abu Ali was convicted on charges of conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to al Qaeda terrorists, conspiracy to commit air piracy and conspiracy to destroy aircraft.

The jury reached its verdict after 2 1/2 days of deliberation. Abu Ali did not testify during his trial.

“The evidence presented in this case firmly established Abu Ali as a dangerous terrorist who posed a grave threat to our national security,” then-U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said at the time. “This conviction is the result of extraordinary law-enforcement work and international cooperation. It serves as a clear warning to all that terrorists can and will be brought to the bar of justice.”

Abu Ali told the court during an arraignment in February 2005 that he had been tortured by Saudi officials. His attorneys said the U.S. government knew of the treatment before he was turned over to the FBI and returned to the United States to stand trial.

Defense attorney Ashraf W. Nubani said doctors found scars on Abu Ali´s back showing he had been whipped.

But the government contended there was “no credible evidence” that Abu Ali was tortured or mistreated in Saudi Arabia, adding that an American doctor who examined him after his transfer to U.S. authorities “found no evidence of any physical mistreatment on the defendant´s back or any other part of his body.”

A six-count grand jury indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in Alexandria in February 2005 said Abu Ali on several occasions in Saudi Arabia met with leaders of al Qaeda, including Zubayr al-Rimi, the second-ranking al Qaeda member in that country.

The indictment said Abu Ali told co-conspirators in 2002 and 2003 that he wanted to become a planner of terrorist operations like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and lead hijacker Mohamed Atta.

The indictment said Abu Ali provided material support by purchasing a laptop computer, cell phone and books for the terrorist organization´s use. It also said he received training from al Qaeda in the use of weapons, including hand grenades and document forgery.

Saudi authorities arrested Abu Ali in June 2003 after terrorist attacks in Riyadh that killed 34, including nine Americans.

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