- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

Two U.S. citizens pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to levy war against the United States, bringing the number to six Americans who have admitted being part of a Portland, Ore., terrorist cell. A seventh man, a Jordanian, remains at large.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said Patrice Lumumba Ford and Jeffrey Leon Battle each pleaded guilty to one count of seditious conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department in its ongoing terrorism investigation. They face prison terms of 20 years and fines totaling $250,000.

Four other members of the so-called Portland Seven, all U.S. citizens, pleaded guilty in the case over the past two months. Indictments handed up in October 2002 said the group planned to join al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban forces fighting U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

“The United States does not casually or capriciously charge its own citizens with providing support to terrorists,” Mr. Ashcroft said at a news conference yesterday.

“But the September 11 attacks are a constant stark reminder that America has enemies in the world who would seek to kill American women and men and children any way they can,” he said. “And sometimes the enemies are here at home.”

The attorney general used the announcement to laud the Patriot Act, saying the plea agreements “would have been more difficult to achieve” if not for the act’s legal tools.

Passed two years ago with overwhelming support from Congress, the act has attracted criticism from civil liberties groups who say sections of the act have given the government too much power to snoop.

The act also is drawing criticism from Capitol Hill. A bipartisan group of lawmakers and advocacy groups calling themselves the Coalition of Conscience yesterday introduced a bill to roll back sections of the act that they said encroached on civil liberties.

Mr. Ashcroft dismissed such criticisms, saying the Patriot Act “tore down the artificial wall that separated intelligence from law enforcement personnel.”

He said it particularly affected the Oregon case by permitting “the issuance of nationwide search warrants for e-mail communication in the possession of Internet service providers.”

“Even Jeffrey Battle understood the importance of the Patriot Act,” Mr. Ashcroft said, recounting a conversation the former Army reservist had with an FBI informant in May 2002. Mr. Ashcroft said Battle told the informant that because of the Patriot Act, “everybody’s scared to give up any money to help us.”

The attorney general also said the Oregon case was an example of the way that after September 11 “certain citizens in our own country decided deliberately to fight for the enemy.”

Before the plea agreements of Battle, 32, and Ford, 31, the other members of the Oregon cell who had reached agreements with the Justice Department were brothers Ahmed Bilal, 24, and Muhammad Bilal, 22, Maher Hawash, 38, and Battle’s ex-wife, October Martinique Lewis, 25.

The seventh member of the cell, Habis Abdullah al Saoub, 37, a Jordanian, remains at large. Pakistani authorities reportedly have said that someone fitting al Saoub’s description may have been killed in a raid in Pakistan. Justice Department officials could not confirm that yesterday.

Mr. Ashcroft said that it was in the months after the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that Battle and Ford met with the Bilal brothers, Hawash and al Saoub in the Portland area and agreed to travel to Afghanistan to fight U.S. troops.

To prepare, Battle and Ford, along with Ahmed Bilal and al Saoub, conducted weapons training in a gravel pit in Washougal, Wash., Mr. Ashcroft said.

On Oct. 17, 2001, Battle went to the Portland airport and flew to Hong Kong with co-defendant al Saoub. Three days later, Ford and the Bilal brothers made the same trip, meeting Battle, al Saoub and later Hawash in Hong Kong, according to court papers, which maintain the group intended to enter Afghanistan through China and Pakistan.

Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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