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Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Saudi grad student indicted for conspiring to support Jihad on the internet

Washington Post: A federal grand jury in Idaho yesterday charged a Saudi graduate student with conspiring to help terrorist organizations wage jihad by using the Internet to raise funds, field recruits, and locate prospective U.S. targets -- military and civilian -- in the Middle East.

Sami Omar Hussayen, a doctoral candidate in computer science in a University of Idaho program sponsored by the National Security Agency, is accused of creating Web sites and an e-mail group that disseminated messages from him and two radical clerics in Saudi Arabia that supported jihad, or holy war.

The indictment, the result of an extensive two-year probe, represents the first time the government has charged that using the Internet for recruitment, fund-raising and other purposes constitutes aid under a law that makes it illegal to provide "material support or resources" for terrorist activity.

That law and a 1996 statute that bars support to terror organizations have been the Justice Department's principal tools for prosecuting people who have raised money for terror groups or trained in terrorist camps. But department officials carefully weighed where and how to prosecute Hussayen, in part because the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which oversees federal courts in Idaho and other western states, has found the 1996 statute unconstitutionally vague.

"The importance of this case is that for international terrorism to thrive -- their success in the recent past has rested on their ability to raise funds and recruit through the Internet," said Thomas E. Moss, U.S. attorney in Boise. He and other Justice Department officials are aware of the "unique nature of the case," Moss said, and are confident the charges "will withstand constitutional muster."

But Hussayen's lawyer, David Nevin, said he believes "there is substantial question about the constitutionality of this charge," contending that facilitating the operation of Web sites falls within Hussayen's First Amendment rights. Nevin denied that Hussayen has raised money for jihad and said that "he has not posted calls for violence, absolutely not."

The 12-count indictment issued yesterday contends that Hussayen, 35, "knew and intended that the material support he provided were to be used in preparation for, and to commit, violations of federal law involving murder, maiming, kidnapping and the destruction of property." It asserts that Hussayen sought to conceal the work he did.

Hussayen is accused of moderating an Arabic-language e-mail group that posted instructions on how to train at a particular terrorist camp. The same e-mail group was used to issue an "urgent appeal" to Muslims in the military last February for locations of U.S. military bases in the Middle East, residences of civilian base workers, storage facilities for weapons and ammunition, facilities of American oil companies, and routes followed by oil tankers, in order to select them as targets for acts of terror, according to the indictment. The posting also urged an attack on a high-ranking American military officer, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors charged in the indictment that Hussayen launched the e-mail group four years ago as a "Cry and Call" to Muslims, exhorting them to "fight the idolator with your money, your selves, your tongues and your prayers." He allegedly sent numerous postings to the group -- which grew to 2,400 members -- including one titled "Virtues of Jihad," that glorified those who die in holy war. In other messages, he urged group members to donate money to provide jihadists with the "weapons and physical strength" for war.

Georgetown University law professor David Cole, a civil liberties advocate who has challenged aspects of the material-support law, said that in order to convict Hussayen, the government would have to show that he was promoting speech "that advocates criminal activity," and that "it was intended and likely to produce imminent lawless action."

Hussayen has been in federal custody for the past year, charged with lying on immigration documents by failing to disclose his employment as webmaster for the Detroit-based Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA). That case was slated to go to trial Jan. 20. Nevin said he has not decided whether to ask the court for more time to answer the new charges filed yesterday.

The Saudi government, which sponsored Hussayen's studies in the United States, has provided money for his legal defense and sought his release, though Saudi Embassy officials have said they consider IANA a radical organization and a branch of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood. Embassy officials were unavailable to comment on the new indictment.

The Hussayen investigation is part of a cluster of interrelated probes across the country, federal officials have said. Previous court filings and testimony have linked the Idaho effort to investigations of charities and foundations suspected of financing terrorism. Those groups include the Illinois offices of the Benevolence International Foundation and the Global Relief Foundation, and the Northern Virginia-based SAAR foundation.

Hussayen's uncle Saleh ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen, a senior religious official in Saudi Arabia, has been involved with those charities and has provided funds to IANA, according to the FBI.

The Hussayen probe is also linked to the case of 11 men indicted in Alexandria last June and accused of training to wage jihad with a Pakistani terrorist group. Four have pleaded guilty, and law enforcement sources said they are expected to be called as witnesses in Hussayen's case.

Without commenting directly on those witnesses, Moss said his office "will no doubt call people who have responded to admonitions and calls for action" they found on the Web sites Hussayen operated.

The indictment charges Hussayen with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists through his operation and control of Web sites, his financial support of IANA, and by signing contracts and doing Internet work for the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation. That organization is a Saudi-based charity whose branches in Bosnia and Somalia have been designated terrorist organizations by the Treasury Department.

Web sites registered or operated by Hussayen published, among other material, a solicitation for the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, which has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department, according to the court papers.

Hussayen faces as much as 15 years in prison if convicted.