CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - An alleged al-Qaida operative held for nearly six years before being charged as a terrorist must remain behind bars as the criminal case against him continues, a judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Carr turned down Ali al-Marri’s bid to be released on bond, despite the defense’s offer of collateral worth more than $1 million and its proposal to keep him guarded in a safe house.
Carr said he would issue an order requiring al-Marri be transported to Illinois, where he’s scheduled to be arraigned Monday on federal charges of providing material support to terror and conspiracy. Until the transfer, al-Marri is at the same Navy brig near Charleston where he’s been since 2003.
“The weight of the evidence that the defendant entered the United States with the intent to violate the laws of the United States and damage this country is significant,” Carr wrote in the order. “There is no reason to believe any condition of release would prevent him from acting on those impulses.”
Prosecutors contend al-Marri is still a danger to the public who was greatly influenced by Islamic radicals and could flee.
“He came to the U.S. under command and control of al-Qaida,” said prosecutor Michael Mullaney.
Al-Marri’s lawyer, Andy Savage, said the defendant could be kept at a guarded location, and presented witnesses to bolster the argument that he wouldn’t pose a threat.
Savage’s wife, Cheryl, said she got to know al-Marri in the past five years while she worked as office manager in her husband’s firm. She said she was willing to post bond secured by what her husband later described as commercial property “worth seven figures.”
She said there was “a very great disconnect” between the menacing portrait of al-Marri painted by the government and the considerate, reverent man she knows. Cheryl Savage, who traveled to meet his family in the Middle East, also presented a video in which the defendant’s brother said their elderly mother wishes to see him before she dies.
Two brig guards testified there were no discipline problems with al-Marri and they never heard him say anything critical of the United States. And a private investigator said he had found a place where al-Marri could be kept under guard until trial.
Mullaney countered that such an arrangement was akin to keeping al-Marri in prison.
“They have agreed essentially that he needs imprisonment,” said Mullaney, the chief of the Counterterrorism Section in the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
Carr wrote, “there are no conditions of release that will reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance as required and the safety of the community.”
President Barack Obama in February ordered al-Marri surrendered to civilian authorities after he was indicted in Peoria, Ill., on federal charges of providing material support to terror and conspiracy. He had been held in the brig as an enemy combatant.
The defendant had a student visa to study at Bradley University when he was arrested in late 2001 as part of the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks. Prosecutors told Carr that he arrived the day before the attacks, never took classes at the university and his computer showed he had been researching toxins.
He was initially indicted on fraud charges, which were dropped in 2003 when President George W. Bush declared him an enemy combatant.
Prosecutors also said al-Marri had been in contact with al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan after arriving in this county. Following the hearing, prosecutors declined to comment further.
The government has said al-Marri met with Osama bin Laden and volunteered for a suicide mission or whatever help al-Qaida wanted.
Al-Qaida leaders wanted al-Marri, a computer specialist, to wreak havoc on the U.S. banking system and to serve as a liaison for other al-Qaida operatives, according to a court document filed by Jeffrey Rapp, a senior member of the Defense Intelligence Agency.