Men Who Used To Live In Canton Charged With Conspiring To Support Al-Qaida
August 29, 2002 at 5:11 PM EST - Updated July 12 at 6:40 AM
By ALEXANDRA R. MOSES, Associated Press Writer
DETROIT (AP) - When federal agents raided a Detroit apartment shortly after Sept. 11, they found three men living in what was essentially a flop house, with no beds and garbage bags full of clothing.
A search of the apartment resulted in an alarming discovery: a cache of false documents, a day planner detailing planned attacks in Turkey and Jordan and a videotape that appeared to case U.S. landmarks such as Disneyland in California and the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan and Farouk Ali-Haimoud were taken into custody and charged with fraud and misuse of visas. At the time, officials said they were really looking for another man whose name appeared on the mailbox.
But on Wednesday, the three were among six men charged by federal grand juries with conspiring to support Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
U.S. officials said they expected several more such indictments in coming months as the FBI, Customs Service and other federal agencies attempt to block money and operational support from the United States from reaching terror groups overseas.
Agents believe they have uncovered a broad effort by U.S. residents -- many of whom are citizens or legal residents -- to use credit card thefts, illegal cigarette sales, diverted charitable funds and cash smuggled in airline luggage to enrich terror groups, the officials said.
The charges include five men listed in the Detroit indictment and one in Seattle. In the Seattle case, Muslim activist Earnest James Ujaama was accused in a two-count indictment of trying to set up a "jihad (holy war) training camp" on the West Coast and providing support and resources to al-Qaida.
The indictment accused Ujaama, an American citizen, of leading discussions about creating poison to use on the public and firebombing vehicles. Ujaama has repeatedly denied any ties to terrorism.
The men arrested in Detroit were accused of acting with two others as "a covert underground support unit" and a "sleeper operational combat cell" for a radical Islamic movement allied with al-Qaida. They were charged with conspiracy to provide material support or resources to terrorists.
Before going to Michigan, Hannan and Koubriti rented at least two apartments in Canton, Ohio, and worked odd jobs in the area, including stints at the Case Farms chicken processing plant in Winesburg, about 25 miles southwest of Canton.
Hannan's attorney, James Thomas has said he believes the men met in Canton, but moved to the Detroit area because of its large Arab population.
The other men named in the Detroit indictment are Youssef Hmimssa and a man known only by his first name, Abdella. Hmimssa was named at the top of the indictment, where the charges were listed, but was not further mentioned. U.S. officials offered no immediate explanation, although legal experts said it probably signaled that the details of Hmimssa's indictment are sealed by a court.
All of the men except Abdella are in custody.
The Detroit indictment said the men used code to speak about terrorist plans and were "involved in plans to obtain weaponry to benefit operatives overseas."
"Their planning involved specific violent attacks, including ones that targeted an American air base in Incerlik, Turkey, and a hospital in Amman, Jordan," the indictment said.
Thomas said Wednesday he could not comment on the case, citing a gag order. Ali-Haimoud's attorney, Kevin Ernst, called the indictment "incredibly imflamatory."
"The only purpose is to create this atmosphere of fear," Ernst said Thursday. Attorneys for Koubriti and Hmimssa did not return calls seeking comment.
The indictment alleges the men checked Detroit Metropolitan Airport for gaps in security. Ali-Haimoud was arrested again in April at an airport ice cream shop where he worked, beyond the security checkpoint.
Koubriti and Hannan briefly worked as dishwashers for a catering company at two Sky Chefs buildings near Detroit Metro, but their badges didn't give them access to the airport.
Koubriti lived briefly in Falls Church, Va., on the same street as two of the suspected Sept. 11 hijackers, according to court filings. He and Hannan came to the United States nearly two years ago from Morocco, according to their passports and green cards.
Hmimssa was arrested Sept. 28 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His photo and an alias were found on many of the false IDs in the Detroit apartment.
Federal officials had seen Hmimssa before -- under a different name. Authorities learned he had been arrested May 23, 2001 by the Secret Service in Chicago and charged under the alias Patrick J. Vuillaume for allegedly stealing credit card numbers using a "skimming" device.
Ujaama's indictment in Seattle came weeks after he was arrested in Denver and held as a material witness in the terrorism investigation. He has maintained his innocence, and his lawyer has pressed prosecutors to either charge him or release him.
"If there's anything positive to come out of this, it renders some certainty to his situation," attorney Daniel Sears said Wednesday.
The indictment contends Ujaama, born James Ernest Thompson, led a conspiracy to set up a training camp in Bly, Ore. He was charged with conspiracy to provide material support and resources for al-Qaida and with using, carrying, possessing and discharging firearms during a crime.
Ujaama's community work has won him praise in his hometown. He once was given a key to the city of Seattle. And state lawmakers declared June 10, 1994, James Ujaama Day.
In a written statement, Ujaama accused the government of conducting a witch hunt.
"Should it be the policy of this government to convict innocent people before any hearing or before any trial?" Ujaama asked. "My constitutional rights, my civil liberties and my future have been grossly violated in a bid to seek political gain, not justice or truth."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)