- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

The FBI became engaged last year in its most expansive suspect search ever, a massive manhunt involving law-enforcement agencies across the globe and united by the goal of exposing and neutralizing Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorism network.
Having indicted more than 20 suspected terrorists believed to be linked to the elusive network since the early 1990s, federal law-enforcement authorities have possessed intelligence on al Qaeda for more than a decade.
But September 11, 2001, pushed the process of tracking the network into a new spotlight. More than ever, citizens and governments worldwide were overcome by an itch to expose al Qaeda and the plot behind the deadliest terrorist attacks in history.
A shift in the FBI's priorities became clear in the months after the attacks, when newly tapped FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told reporters in Washington: "The hardest thing for all of us is to think that another such attack will occur and we have not done everything possible we can overturned every stone to try to prevent [it]."
Hundreds of arrests have been made, many during the U.S. military's raid on Afghanistan. While dozens of those in custody are suspected of having al Qaeda connections, media coverage has focused most heavily on two men: accused September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh.
Moussaoui, the 34-year-old French Moroccan, is tentatively scheduled for a January trial in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, where Lindh, 21, negotiated a plea agreement with the government in July.
Much of the FBI probe has focused inside the United States with more than 150 separate investigations into groups or individuals suspected of al Qaeda ties. The bureau has also refocused priorities abroad.
Agents hunting for terrorists in Europe and across Asia, in Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines reportedly have learned that the al Qaeda network spans across an estimated 60 countries.
With Saudi-born bin Laden topping it, a list of 22 of the world's most dangerous terrorism suspects posted on the FBI's Web site indicates that most of those connected to the network remain at large.
The tactic of posting suspects on www.fbi.gov has proved worthwhile, however. One suspect whose name made the site last month recently surrendered to authorities in Saudi Arabia.
Alerting police worldwide that Saud Abdulaziz Saud al-Rasheed is suspected of being "associated with the September 11, 2001, hijackers," the bulletin was posted after investigators discovered al-Rasheed's passport photo next to photos of some of the September 11 hijackers on a CD-ROM.
Charges have not been brought against him.
Dozens of other suspects not posted on the Web site have been rounded up by the FBI and police in other countries, and many of the arrests have been made during the past four months.
In May, FBI agents in Chicago arrested a man coming off a flight from Pakistan. Jose Padilla, 31, a U.S. citizen who took the name Abdullah al Mujahir, is suspected of plotting with al Qaeda to attack the United States with a radioactive "dirty bomb." Although charges have not been filed, he's being held by the U.S. military in South Carolina.
In May and June, authorities in Morocco arrested a 10-member group suspected of al Qaeda involvement and of plotting an attack on U.S. and British warships in the Mediterranean Sea. Members of the group, which includes three Moroccan women, are charged with criminal conspiracy, among other things.
In July, authorities in Hamburg, Germany, raided six apartments and an Islamic book store before arresting six men suspected of ties to al Qaeda. Hamburg is widely believed to have housed an al Qaeda terrorist cell directly involved in plotting the September 11 attack. Hamburg police continue to investigate, although it is not clear what charges, if any, will be filed against the arrested suspects.
In July, FBI agents in Denver arrested James Ujaama, suspected of offering material support to al Qaeda members engaged in a conspiracy to attack persons and property outside the United States. The 36-year-old was indicted Aug. 28 by a federal grand jury in Seattle on charges he provided al Qaeda with "training facilities, computer services, safe houses and personnel," according to court papers.
Another arrested earlier in the year is Richard C. Reid, the "shoe-bomber" suspect, indicted in January by a federal grand jury in Boston on charges he was trained by al Qaeda in Afghanistan to destroy a commercial jetliner during a trans-Atlantic flight.
Reid, a 28-year-old British citizen and convert to Islam, was arrested Dec. 22 after crew members and passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 63 bound from Paris to Miami overpowered him as he reportedly attempted to ignite explosives hidden in his shoes.
The Boeing 767 jetliner was diverted for an emergency landing in Boston and escorted to Logan International Airport by two U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jets. Authorities said he was trying to ignite 10 ounces of plastic explosives hidden in his sneakers.
On Jan. 16, the Wall Street Journal reported that data found on a computer believed to have been used by a top al Qaeda commander in Afghanistan described the path of an "al Qaeda operative" closely resembling the path of travel Reid made before his arrest.
A week after the report appeared, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, while researching links between Reid and Pakistani extremists. Mr. Pearl was brutally murdered by his captors on videotape four weeks after his kidnapping.
In March, the Justice Department suggested that as many as 100 of the more than 1,200 people detained on immigration and other charges in the United States after the September 11 attacks on America were suspected of having links to al Qaeda.
Federal law-enforcement authorities say information gleaned during intense interrogations of the more than 300 prisoners being held at a detention center on the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay has given rise to dozens of leads in the ongoing al Qaeda investigation.
The newly-passed USA Patriot Act gave broad new powers to federal law-enforcement authorities to question and detain indefinitely noncitizens suspected of having ties to terrorists.
But Moussaoui remains the only man indicted on charges linked directly to the September 11 attacks. He is accused of conspiring with the 19 hijackers who executed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which killed more than 3,000 people.
Prosecutors say Moussaoui would have been "the 20th hijacker" had he not been arrested and held on immigration violations before the attacks occurred. FBI agents detained him Aug. 26, 2001, after employees at a Minneapolis flight school reported him as a suspicious foreigner wanting to learn how to fly and steer an aircraft without learning takeoff and landing techniques.
Since being indicted, Moussaoui has filed dozens of handwritten motions winning the right in June to defend himself.
During a hearing before a packed courtroom on July 18, Moussaoui referred to September 11 by telling U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema that as a self-proclaimed member of al Qaeda, he knows "who done it." Moussaoui also said undercover FBI agents participated in the attacks one even riding on a hijacked airplane.
Federal prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty for Moussaoui if he is convicted.
Weeks after the Moussaoui case began making headlines, the U.S. District Court in Alexandria under the leadership of U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty was assigned the Lindh case in late November. U.S. Special Forces had captured Lindh among members of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was found among war prisoners in a temporary jail near Mazar-e-Sharif.
Bearded and weary from combat, Lindh appeared in an interview with a CNN war correspondent and said he had been in Afghanistan six months. He also admitted that he had been assigned to a branch of Arab fighters in the Taliban.
Lindh, who was born in Maryland, had graduated high school in a suburb of San Francisco at the age of 16 before devoting his life to Islam, traveling to Afghanistan and taking up arms in support of the Muslim holy war there.
During the weeks after his capture, he told FBI agents he had met bin Laden at a training camp, where the terrorist leader thanked him for taking part in the jihad, according to court papers.
On July 15, Lindh's lawyers plea-bargained with federal prosecutors, who dropped such charges against him as the conspiracy to kill Americans, which could have put Lindh in prison for life. In exchange, Lindh pleaded guilty to supplying services to the Taliban and to carrying a firearm and explosives while fighting in Afghanistan.
He also agreed to help the government with any future investigations into the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Lindh was not the only American-born man captured in Afghanistan last year.
Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen of Middle Eastern decent, was captured in November and his case also is being played out in Virginia.
After having sent him with other detainees from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay, U.S. officials learned that Hamdi, 21, was born in Baton Rouge, where his father had worked as an engineer in a U.S.-Saudi venture. When he was 3 years old, Hamdi's family moved back to Saudi Arabia.
Once at Guantanamo Bay, Hamdi began demanding a lawyer and a fair trial as an American citizen. On April 5, authorities transferred him to the Norfolk Naval Station brig, where he has been held since. But unlike Lindh, no charges have been filed against Hamdi.
Hamdi has, however, been appointed a public defender to represent him in federal court in Norfolk, where his case has become a source of contention between civil liberties activists and the government.
The government argues that enemy combatants detained in America's war against terrorism can be held indefinitely without charges being filed against them.
Hamdi's father filed a petition to the Justice Department in June, seeking his son's release on grounds he has not been charged with anything. The petition was contested by the government, as was the appointment of Hamdi's public defender. The government argued that Hamdi might try to use the public defender to communicate with other suspected terrorists who have been detained.
In July, the government presented to the court a description of Hamdi's capture in Afghanistan, saying there was proof Hamdi is a devotee of the Taliban.
But U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar rejected the description and on Aug. 16 demanded more evidence be provided to explain why Hamdi is being held without charges.
The government's response is still pending.
Last month, a federal grand jury in Detroit indicted Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, Youssef Hmimssa, Farouk Ali-Haimoud, and Abdella, all of Arab origin, with conspiring to support al Qaeda. They were accused of operating a "covert underground support unit" and a "sleeper operational combat cell" for the radical Islamic movement Salafiyyah, an al Qaeda ally.
All but Abdella have been in custody on immigration violations since shortly after the September 11 attacks.
According to the indictment, the men also plotted terrorist attacks in Turkey and Jordan and possessed a videotape showing Disneyland in California and the MGM Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Jerry Seper contributed to this report.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide