- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Bush administration’s post-September 11 eavesdropping program did not compromise its prosecution of an American Muslim cleric convicted of soliciting treason and persuading some of his followers to join the Taliban, prosecutors said.

But defense attorneys are not satisfied with the government’s claim, and on Friday a federal judge held a closed-door hearing and allowed attorneys for Ali al-Timimi some latitude to investigate the government’s conduct.

Al-Timimi, of Fairfax, a U.S.-born Muslim who studied under prominent fundamentalist clerics in Saudi Arabia, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison last year for soliciting treason and urging some of his followers in the days after the September 11 terrorist attacks to take up arms in defense of the Taliban against U.S. troops.

Prosecutors said he was the leader of a “Virginia jihad network” who enjoyed rock star status among his followers, some of whom played paintball in the Virginia woods prior to September 11 as a means of training for global holy war in Chechnya and other hot spots.

Four of al-Timimi’s followers ended up traveling to Pakistan and receiving military training from a militant group called Lashkar-e-Taiba. Some of the four admitted that their ultimate goal was to defend the Taliban, though none actually made it to Afghanistan.

Al-Timimi’s appellate attorney, Jonathan Turley, challenged the conviction late last year after revelations that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct certain types of domestic surveillance without a search warrant. Mr. Turley contends the program is illegal and that evidence obtained from such surveillance should have been turned over to defense attorneys.

In a court filing last week, prosecutors said nothing was improperly withheld.

“The records in the control of the NSA have indeed been searched, and the government did indeed produce to Al-Timimi all of the discovery to which he was entitled,” prosecutor Gordon Kromberg wrote.

Mr. Turley argued the government’s submission does not sufficiently address his concerns. During the closed hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema granted the defense request to make targeted inquiries of the government about whether evidence should been turned over. She also granted al-Timimi’s request to be moved from a federal prison to the Alexandria jail, Mr. Turley said.

Prosecutors had argued there is no reason to move al-Timimi back to Alexandria because there is no reason to allow further inquiry on the eavesdropping issue.

Mr. Turley said after hearing: “We believe there is a high likelihood that there were undisclosed intercepts of Dr. al-Timimi and material witnesses. Today’s hearing was the first step in a process by which we can confirm whether information was withheld.”

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