- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The top FBI official in Detroit has insisted that his agents likely thwarted a terrorist attack by arresting four men in 2001 even though the Justice Department has withdrawn terrorism charges against them.

“You should be proud of the excellent investigative work conducted by the JTTF [Joint Terrorism Task Force] in Detroit, and everyone should recognize that their efforts may have prevented another attack,” Special Agent in Charge Daniel Roberts wrote last week in an e-mail message to his entire office.

The e-mail was obtained by the Associated Press.

Mr. Roberts sent his memo the same day the Justice Department asked a federal judge to dismiss convictions on terrorism counts against Karim Koubriti and other men accused of operating a terror cell in Detroit. The government sought a retrial on lesser fraud charges.

Mr. Roberts reminded agents that convictions weren’t the only way to measure success against terrorists.

“The FBI’s new terrorism mission requires that we work as hard as possible to prevent another terrorist attack,” Mr. Roberts wrote. “If we happen to obtain a prosecution in addition to preventing an attack, then that’s just icing on the proverbial cake.

“The most important goal is to prevent the loss of life through our aggressive involvement in terrorism cases, and I believe we accomplished that in the Koubriti case,” he wrote.

The Justice Department said prosecutors withheld evidence from defense lawyers that might have resulted in a different verdict if the jury had seen it. The judge agreed to the department’s request, causing the case to unravel.

The Justice Department’s court filing questioned the accuracy of trial testimony by FBI agents. Mr. Roberts, on the other hand, said the agents “acted aggressively and worked very hard on this case in an effort to prevent a terrorist attack.”

FBI officials said Mr. Roberts was referring to evidence from Turkish authorities that Osama bin Laden called off an attack on a Turkish air base used by U.S. forces because security was heightened.

Security was raised after sketches of the air base were found in the Detroit men’s apartment in September 2001.

Mr. Roberts described the Justice Department’s turnabout as “strictly a legal decision” necessitated by prosecutors’ failure to turn over certain documents to defense lawyers during trial.

A lawyer for one defendant expressed surprise yesterday about the FBI e-mail.

“It shocks me that anyone who has seen the government’s memo on this case would still think these men are terrorists,” said James Gerometta, a public defender who represented Mr. Koubriti.

The lawyer for former lead prosecutor Rick Convertino, who was harshly criticized in the Justice report, said yesterday that the FBI e-mail supports his client’s position.

“Consistent with the FBI e-mail, Rick has always believed in the propriety of this case and nothing in the government’s memorandum has changed his viewpoint,” attorney Williams Sullivan said.

The Roberts e-mail is the latest sign of discord between legal managers in Washington and agents and prosecutors on the front line of anti-terrorism efforts.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department deported Nabil al-Marabh, No. 27 on the FBI’s list of most-wanted al Qaeda operatives, to Syria earlier this year, although prosecutors in Detroit, Chicago and other cities had built criminal cases against him. The Detroit prosecutors had wanted to make him part of this case.

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