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Context of 'January-2002-December 2002: Prosecutors Not Allowed to Indict Al-Marabh'

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On December 5, 1999, a Jordanian raid discovers 71 vats of bomb making chemicals in this residence.On December 5, 1999, a Jordanian raid discovers 71 vats of bomb making chemicals in this residence. [Source: Judith Miller]Jordanian officials successfully uncover an al-Qaeda plot to blow up the Radisson Hotel in Amman, Jordan, and other sites on January 1, 2000. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The Jordanian government intercepts a call between al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida and a suspected Jordanian terrorist named Abu Hoshar. Zubaida says, “The training is over.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Zubaida also says, “The grooms are ready for the big wedding.” [Seattle Times, 6/23/2002] This call reflects an extremely poor code system, because the FBI had already determined in the wake of the 1998 US embassy bombings that “wedding” was the al-Qaeda code word for bomb. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 214] Furthermore, it appears al-Qaeda fails to later change the system, because the code-name for the 9/11 attack is also “The Big Wedding.” [Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002] Jordan arrests Hoshar while he’s still on the phone talking to Zubaida. In the next few days, 27 other suspects are charged. A Jordanian military court will initially convict 22 of them for participating in planned attacks, sentencing six of them to death, although there will be numerous appeals (see April 2000 and After). In addition to bombing the Radisson Hotel around the start of the millennium, the plan calls for suicide bombings on two border crossings with Israel and a Christian baptism site. Further attacks in Jordan are planned for later. The plotters had already stockpiled the equivalent of 16 tons of TNT, enough to flatten “entire neighborhoods.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Key alleged plotters include:
bullet Raed Hijazi, a US citizen who is part of a Boston al-Qaeda cell (see June 1995-Early 1999). He will be arrested and convicted in late 2000 (see September 2000 and October 2000). [New York Times, 1/15/2001]
bullet Khalid Deek, who is also a US citizen and part of an Anaheim, California al-Qaeda cell. He will be arrested in Pakistan and deported to Jordan, but strangely he will released without going to trial.
bullet Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He will later be a notorious figure in the Iraq war starting in 2003. [Washington Post, 10/3/2004]
bullet Luai Sakra. The Washington Post will later say he “played a role” in the plot, though he is never charged for it. Sakra apparently is a CIA informant before 9/11, perhaps starting in 2000 (see 2000). [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
The Jordanian government will also later claim that the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland helped finance the network of operatives who planned the attack. The bank will be shut down shortly after 9/11 (see November 7, 2001). [Newsweek, 4/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Raed Hijazi, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Al Taqwa Bank, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Khalil Deek, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abu Hoshar, Jordan, Luai Sakra

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Detroit house where Nabil al-Marabh used to live and where Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud are arrested.The Detroit house where Nabil al-Marabh used to live and where Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud are arrested. [Source: BBC]Federal agents looking for Nabil al-Marabh fail to find him at an old Detroit address, but they accidentally discover three other possible operatives there. Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud are arrested. They were working as dishwashers at the Detroit airport. Investigators initially believe they were casing the airport for possible security breaches. [Boston Globe, 11/15/2002] An associate of theirs named Abel Ilah Elmardoudi will be arrested in North Carolina in November 2002. [Boston Globe, 11/15/2002] All four men will be put on trial. Initially, the evidence against them appears strong. For instance, a notebook is found that seems to show a plot to assassinate ex-Defense Secretary William Cohen during a visit to Turkey. [Washington Post, 9/20/2001; Associated Press, 11/17/2001] A stash of false documents is also found, and the men have false passports, Social Security cards, and immigration papers. Some of these documents connect them to al-Marabh. [Boston Herald, 9/20/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002; Boston Globe, 11/15/2002] Al-Marabh had moved out of the Detroit address and the men moved in about two years earlier. [Local 4 News (Detroit), 9/22/2001] In June 2003, Elmardoudi and Koubriti will be convicted of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and Hannan will be convicted of document fraud. However, the case against them will later fall apart amidst charges of prosecutorial misconduct. The so-called assassination plot on Cohen, for instance, appears to have been based on random doodles by a mentally unstable friend. All convictions will eventually be overturned and the men will be freed (see June 2003-August 2004).

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ahmed Hannan, William S. Cohen, Farouk Ali-Haimoud, Karim Koubriti

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mohammed Azmath, left, and Syed Gul Mohammad Shah/ Ayub Ali  Khan, right.Mohammed Azmath, left, and Syed Gul Mohammad Shah/ Ayub Ali Khan, right. [Source: Associated Press]The New York Times reports that, although 830 people have been arrested in the 9/11 terrorism investigation (a number that eventually exceeds between 1,200 and 2,000 (see November 5, 2001), there is no evidence that anyone now in custody was a conspirator in the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, “none of the nearly 100 people still being sought by the [FBI] is seen as a major suspect.” Of all the people arrested, only four, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ayub Ali Khan, Mohammed Azmath, and Nabil al-Marabh, are likely connected to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 10/21/2001] Three of those are later cleared of ties to al-Qaeda. After being kept in solitary confinement for more than eight months without seeing a judge or being assigned a lawyer, al-Marabh pleads guilty to the minor charge of entering the United States illegally (see September 3, 2002) and is deported to Syria (see January 2004). There is considerable evidence al-Marabh did have ties to al-Qaeda and even the 9/11 plot (see September 2000; January 2001-Summer 2001; January 2001-Summer 2001; Spring 2001; Early September 2001). [Washington Post, 6/12/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/27/2002] On September 12, 2002, after a year in solitary confinement and four months before he was able to contact a lawyer, Mohammed Azmath pleads guilty to one count of credit card fraud, and is released with time served. Ayub Ali Khan, whose real name is apparently Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, is given a longer sentence for credit card fraud, but is released and deported by the end of 2002. [Village Voice, 9/25/2002; New York Times, 12/31/2002] By December 2002, only 6 are known to still be in custody, and none have been charged with any terrorist acts (see December 11, 2002). On September 24, 2001, Newsweek reported that “the FBI has privately estimated that more than 1,000 individuals—most of them foreign nationals—with suspected terrorist ties are currently living in the United States.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Azmath, Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, Zacarias Moussaoui, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

In November 2001, US police called Nabil al-Marabh one of their top five suspects in the 9/11 attacks. [Toronto Sun, 11/23/2001] In mid-January 2002, Canadian police call him “the real thing.” [Toronto Sun, 11/23/2001] In late January 2002, it is reported that in Chicago, “Federal agents say criminal charges spelling out his role [in 9/11 and other plots] are likely within a few weeks.” [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Yet, shortly after this, there seems to be a dramatic change of opinion at Justice Department headquarters about al-Marabh. US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago drafts an indictment against Nabil al-Marabh, charging him with multiple counts of making false statements in his interviews with FBI agents. Fitzgerald already has several successful al-Qaeda prosecutions. However, the indictments are rejected by Justice Department headquarters in the name of protecting intelligence. In December 2002, Fitzgerald tracks down a Jordanian informant who had spent time with al-Marabh in a federal detention cell earlier in the year because of minor immigration problems. Fitzgerald has the man flown to Chicago and oversees his debriefing. The man reveals numerous criminal acts that al-Marabh confessed to him in prison, and the information fits with what is already known of al-Marabh’s history (see December 2002). However, Fitzgerald is still not allowed to indict al-Marabh. Another prosecutor in Detroit, trying some associates of al-Marabh in an ultimately unsuccessful case there, also expresses a desire to indict al-Marabh, but is not allowed to do so (see Early 2003). [Associated Press, 6/3/2004] Al-Marabh will ultimately be deported to Syria after serving a short sentence on minor charges (see January 2004).

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, US Department of Justice, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI decides not to charge Nabil al-Marabh on any terrorism related charge. Instead, on September 3, 2002, al-Marabh pleads guilty to illegally entering the US in June 2001 (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001), and is sentenced to only eight months in prison. [Chicago Sun-Times, 9/5/2002] Federal prosecutors claim that “at this time” there is no evidence “of any involvement by [al-Marabh] in any terrorist organization,” even though he has admitted to getting weapons training in Afghan training camps. [Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Numerous reported ties between al-Marabh and the 9/11 hijackers are apparently not mentioned in the trial (see September 2000; January 2001-Summer 2001; January 2001-Summer 2001; Spring 2001; Early September 2001). The judge states he cannot say “in good conscience” that he approves of the plea bargain worked out between the prosecution and defense, but he seems unable to stop it. He says, “Something about this case makes me feel uncomfortable. I just don’t have a lot of information.” He has a number of unanswered questions, such as how al-Marabh had $22,000 in cash and $25,000 worth of amber jewels on his possession when he was arrested, despite holding only a sporadic series of low-paying jobs. “These are the things that kind of bother me. It’s kind of unusual, isn’t it?” says the judge. [National Post, 9/4/2002] In 2003, the judge at al-Marabh’s deportation hearing will rule that al-Marabh presents “a danger to national security” and is “credibly linked to elements of terrorism” but this will not stop him from being deported.(see January 2004).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Nabil al-Marabh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Nabil al-Marabh is serving an eight-month prison sentence for illegally entering the US. A Jordanian in prison with al-Marabh earlier in 2002 informs against him, claiming that al-Marabh tells him many details of his terrorism ties. The informant, who shows “a highly detailed knowledge of his former cell-mate’s associations and movements” [Globe and Mail, 6/4/2004] , claims that al-Marabh:
bullet admitted he sent money to a former roommate, Raed Hijazi, who is later convicted of trying to blow up a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), and that he aided Hijazi’s flight from authorities. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
bullet planned to die a martyr by stealing a gasoline truck, driving it into either the Lincoln or Holland tunnels in New York City, turning it sideways, opening its fuel valves and having an al-Qaeda operative shoot a flare to ignite a massive explosion. The plan was cancelled when Hijazi was arrested in Jordan in October 2000. [Toronto Sun, 10/16/2001; Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
bullet trained on rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at militant camps in Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
bullet boasted about getting drunk with two 9/11 hijackers. [Globe and Mail, 6/4/2004]
bullet asked his uncle to hide an important data CD from Canadian police. [Globe and Mail, 6/4/2004]
bullet claimed he took instructions from a mysterious figure in Chicago known as “al Mosul” which means “boss” in Arabic. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
bullet acknowledged he distributed as much as $200,000 a month to training camps in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. [Associated Press, 6/3/2004] FBI agents are able to confirm portions of the informant’s claims. US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, after being denied permission to indict al-Marabh, uses the informant’s information to press again for an indictment. But the Justice Department continues to refuse to allow an indictment, and al-Marabh will eventually be deported to Syria (see January-2002-December 2002). [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Raed Hijazi, US Department of Justice, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

David Nahmias.David Nahmias. [Source: US Department of Justice]US prosecutors in Detroit are trying four men accused of an al-Qaeda plot. The men, Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud, were arrested shortly after 9/11. They had been living in a Detroit apartment previously occupied by Nabil al-Marabh (see September 17, 2001). Yousef Hmimssa, a Moroccan national, had lived in the Detroit apartment with al-Marabh. When the FBI raided the apartment, they found fake immigration papers linking Hmimssa and al-Marabh, along with attack plans. [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Hmimssa will later be the key witness in the trial against the four arrested Detroit men (see June 2003-August 2004). The FBI later identify three other witnesses—a landlord, a Jordanian informant, and a prison inmate—who linked the four arrested men to al-Marabh (see December 2002). The Detroit prosecutors want to charge al-Marabh as a fifth defendant. However, Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Nahmias prevents them from doing so. He says, “My understanding is that the only connection between al-Marabh and your case was an apparent misidentification by a landlord.” Additionally, memos written by Detroit prosecutors during the trial will later show that they believed the Justice Department was preventing them from introducing some of their most dramatic evidence in the trial. Lead Detroit prosecutor Richard Convertino will later say: “There was a series of evidence, pieces of evidence, that we wanted to get into our trial that we were unable to do. Things that would have strengthened the case immeasurably, and made the case much stronger, exponentially.” For instance, the FBI had learned before the trial that al-Qaeda leader Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi told US interrogators after his capture that bin Laden had authorized an attack on the US air base in Incirlik, Turkey. The FBI also found sketches in the Detroit apartment of what they believed was the same base. The prosecutors wanted to link this evidence to testimony by the al-Libi, but he was handed over to Egypt to be tortured and prosecutors were not able to interview him or use him as a witness (see January 2002 and After). Turkish authorities will later claim that their own evidence indicates bin Laden did authorize an attack on the base at one point. Detroit prosecutors also later complain that the lone Justice Department lawyer sent to help with the case had no intention of helping with the trial, and spent most of his time in Detroit staying in his hotel room or playing basketball. [Associated Press, 8/9/2004] In 2002, Chicago prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is also prohibited from charging al-Marabh with any crime (see January-2002-December 2002).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Richard Convertino, Yousef Hmimssa, Nabil al-Marabh, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, David Nahmias, Abel-Ilah Elmardoudi, Ahmed Hannan, Karim Koubriti, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Farouk Ali-Haimoud

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Clockwise from top left: Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud.Clockwise from top left: Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud. [Source: US Department of Corrections, via Reuters]Verdicts are announced in a trial of four men who lived in a Detroit apartment on 9/11 that had previously been rented by al-Qaeda operative Nabil al-Marabh (see September 17, 2001). Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi and Karim Koubriti are convicted of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and also document fraud. Ahmed Hannan is convicted of document fraud. Farouk Ali-Haimoud is cleared of all charges. Justice Department officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, assert the men were in an al-Qaeda sleeper cell and had plans to attack targets in the US, Jordan, and Turkey. The verdicts are hailed as the first successful post-9/11 terrorism prosecution. [Washington Post, 12/31/2003] However, the case soon begins to fall apart. The judge learns the prosecution had withheld evidence in the case, and in December 2003, orders an internal Justice Department inquiry. In August 2004, the inquiry asks the judge to throw out the convictions because of prosecutorial misconduct, which he does. For instance, it is revealed that the only witness in the trial, Youssef Hmimssa, told a fellow prisoner that he had made up all his evidence against the defendants. But the prosecution kept this information, and much more that was potentially damaging to their case, from the jury. The Washington Post later reports that the inquiry concludes “the prosecution stuck doggedly to its theory in defiance of plausible explanations and advice from other US government officials. Records suggest prosecutors withheld evidence that cast doubt on their conclusions, even when ordered by superiors to deliver documents to the defense.” By late 2005, it will be reported that a federal grand jury is investigating whether the lead prosecutor, Richard Convertino, or anyone else should be indicted. Convertino meanwhile will sue Ashcroft and other Justice Department superiors, accusing them of mismanaging the case and retaliating against him for testifying critically about the Justice Department before Congress. [Washington Post, 12/31/2003; Associated Press, 8/30/2004; Washington Post, 11/20/2005] But Convertino will later be found not guilty of withholding evidence during the trial. Furthermore, it will be revealed that key evidence withheld from the defense actually would have strengthened the prosecution’s case, not the defense case. The Associated Press will later comment that a new analysis of the evidence suggests that there may have been a Detroit sleeper cell after all (see November 1, 2007).

Entity Tags: Yousef Hmimssa, Richard Convertino, Karim Koubriti, John Ashcroft, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abel-Ilah Elmardoudi, Ahmed Hannan, Farouk Ali-Haimoud

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Nabil al-Marabh.Nabil al-Marabh. [Source: Associated Press]After Nabil al-Marabh’s eight-month prison sentence was completed in 2003, he remained in a Chicago prison awaiting deportation. However, deportation proceedings were put on hold because federal prosecutors lodged a material witness warrant against him. When the warrant is dropped, al-Marabh is cleared to be deported to Syria. [Associated Press, 1/29/2003; Associated Press, 6/3/2004] In late 2002, the US government argued that there was no evidence al-Marabh had ever been involved in any terrorist activity or connected to any terrorist organization (see September 3, 2002). However, in al-Marabh’s deportation hearing, the judge rules that he “does present a danger to national security,” is “credibly linked to elements of terrorism,” and has a “propensity to lie.” A footnote in his 2003 deportation ruling states, “The FBI has been unable to rule out the possibility that al-Marabh has engaged in terrorist activity or will do so if he is not removed from the United States.” He is deported nonetheless, and prosecutors from two US cities are not allowed to indict him. Both Democratic and Republican Senators will later express bafflement and complain about this deportation (see June 30, 2004). [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Nabil al-Marabh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In May 2005, the Globe and Mail reports that friends and family of Nabil al-Marabh fear he is being jailed in Syria. He apparently lives freely there for a few months after being deported from the US in January 2004 (see January 2004), but then is arrested by Syrian intelligence agents. The article will note that, “US deportation records show that Mr. al-Marabh had expressed fears about being conscripted or tortured in Syria, which is notorious for abusing its prisoners.” [Globe and Mail, 5/11/2005] In late 2007, it will be reported that it is believed al-Marabh is still jailed in Syria, though there have been no reports of him being officially charged with any crime. [National Post, 10/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, Syria

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Associated Press reports that both Republicans and Democrats have expressed outrage that Nabil al-Marabh was deported in January 2004 (see January 2004). Several senators have written letters to Attorney General John Ashcroft, demanding an explanation. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IN) states that the circumstances of al-Marabh’s deportation—who was “at one time No. 27 on the [FBI] list of Most Wanted Terrorists”—are “of deep concern and appear to be a departure from an aggressive, proactive approach to the war on terrorism.” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote to Ashcroft, “The odd handling of this case raises questions that deserve answers from the Justice Department.… Why was a suspected terrorist returned to a country that sponsors terrorism? We need to know that the safety of the American people and our strategic goals in countering terrorism are paramount factors when decisions like this are made.” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) says, “It seems that pursuing a military tribunal, a classified criminal trial, or continued immigration proceedings would have made more sense than merely deporting a suspected terrorist.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has also made inquiries into the case. Prosecutors in several US cities sought to bring criminal cases against al-Marabh and a US attorney in Chicago drafted an indictment against him, which he apparently was not allowed to pursue (see January-2002-December 2002). [Associated Press, 6/30/2004] Apparently, no explanation from Ashcroft is ever given. The 9/11 Commission Final Report, released a couple of months later, will fail to mention al-Marabh at all.

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Leahy, John Ashcroft, Nabil al-Marabh, Orrin Hatch, Charles Grassley, Charles Schumer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Richard Convertino.Richard Convertino. [Source: Associated Press]Richard Convertino is acquitted by a Detroit federal court jury of subverting justice in a 2003 trial (see June 2003-August 2004). Convertino had been accused of withholding photographs from defense attorneys that might have undermined their 2003 prosecution and convictions of four alleged al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Detroit. In 2003, defense attorneys wanted photos of a Jordanian hospital, hoping the photos would not match a crude drawing Convertino argued was a terrorist planning sketch. Convertino said there were none, and claims he never saw them, but photos of the hospital were later found. [Detroit Free Press, 11/1/2007] However, a later FBI analysis determined the sketch did closely match the photos after all, so the photos would have actually strengthened Convertino’s case, not weakened it. The guilty verdicts against three of the four men - Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, Karim Koubriti, and Ahmed Hannan - were later overturned, in large part due to the dispute over the photos (see June 2003-August 2004). The Associated Press will later comment that evidence that the sketch and photos did match “renews questions about whether the government correctly arrested the four men as a terrorist cell…” [Associated Press, 4/21/2006] Convertino alleges the charges against him were politically motivated to punish him for complaining before Congress about a lack of resources in the trial. He has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Justice Department. [Detroit Free Press, 11/1/2007] A judge dismisses one remaining charge against Convertino a month later. [Associated Press, 12/12/2007] It appears the Justice Department also battled with Convertino and his prosecution team and prevented him from using evidence that could have strengthened his case (see Early 2003).

Entity Tags: Karim Koubriti, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Farouk Ali-Haimoud, Ahmed Hannan, Abel-Ilah Elmardoudi, US Department of Justice, Richard Convertino

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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