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Us wins trial detroit sleeper cell { June 3 2003 }

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U.S. Wins First 'Sleeper Cell' Trial

Associated Press Writer

June 3, 2003, 5:27 PM EDT

DETROIT -- Two of four Arab immigrants were convicted Tuesday of conspiring to support Islamic extremists plotting attacks in the United States and the Middle East. A third was found guilty of a fraud charge, and a fourth was acquitted of all counts.

The case, which began with a raid on a Detroit apartment just six days after the Sept. 11 attacks, resulted in the first guilty verdicts involving a so-called "sleeper" cell. The trial was seen as a test of the government's ability to prosecute such cases.

Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, 37, and Karim Koubriti, 24, were found guilty of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to terrorists, and of conspiracy to engage in fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents.

Ahmed Hannan, 34, was acquitted of conspiracy to support terrorism, but was found guilty of conspiracy to engage in fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents.

Koubriti and Hannan were acquitted on two other fraud counts.

Elmardoudi can be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison, Koubriti up to 10 years and Hannan up to five years, prosecutors said. U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Rosen said sentencing would take place in three to four months.

Farouk Ali-Haimoud, 22, was acquitted of all charges. He wept after the jury left the courtroom, and his lawyer asked for his release as soon as possible.

Prosecutors alleged the four men worked as a sleeper cell that was part of a shadowy unidentified terrorist group and conspired to help terrorists by raising money and producing false documents.

Defense attorneys said their clients were victims of overzealous federal agents who relied on the lies of an admitted con man to build a flimsy case that didn't add up to terrorism.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino noted that the government said Elmardoudi was the leader of the alleged cell. "This is consistent with the jury's verdict," he said outside the courtroom.

Elmardoudi's attorney, William Swor, said his client was devastated by the verdict, but said he didn't believe the jury accepted the government's argument that the men were part of a terrorist cell. "Even in my client's conviction, there is no support for the government's contention," Swor said.

Ali-Haimoud is Algerian and the others are from Morocco. Prosecutors said their plot was hatched before they arrived in the United States in the late 1990s and 2000.

In building their case, prosecutors said a videotape and sketches found in the apartment raid showed potential targets including Las Vegas and Disneyland, and U.S. military installations in Turkey and Jordan. Defense attorneys said the videotape was an innocent travelogue.

Other alleged terror cases, including those of shoe bomber Richard Reid and an alleged cell in Lackawanna, N.Y., ended with guilty pleas. The trial here was closely watched by members of the Bush administration, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was rebuked by the judge for publicly praising a government witness during the two-month trial.

An authority on national security law, Stephen Dycus, a Vermont Law School professor, said the verdicts send an important message. "Military tribunals may not be needed because here is another example of our successful prosecution of these folks using the criminal laws," he said.

However, Seth Kreimer, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, noted the government's failure to convict all the defendants on all charges.

"Given the current situation of continued fear regarding terrorism, to have an acquittal in this high-profile case suggests there was pretty weak evidence," Kreimer said.

At the heart of the case was material found during the apartment raid on Sept. 17, 2001. Authorities looking for a man on a terrorist watch list found fake documents, airport badges, the videotape the government said showed possible U.S. targets, and a day planner holding what prosecutors said were sketches of an American air base in Turkey and a military hospital in Jordan.

The government suggested the men were radical followers of the Salafist theology, based in part on audio tapes found in the raid. Defense experts said the tapes espouse mainstream Salafi ideology, which focuses on strict adherence to Islamic traditions.

The defense said the day planner once belonged to a now-dead mentally ill man who liked to doodle. They said the video, which includes scenes of Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, was an innocuous travelogue. And while two of the men worked as dishwashers for a catering company near the Detroit airport, the badges didn't give them access to the airport itself.
Copyright 2003, The Associated Press

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