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Muslim Activist Is Arrested in Denver

Security: James Ujaama is being held as a material witness as part of a grand jury probe.

July 24, 2002|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Federal authorities said Tuesday that they have arrested a Muslim activist who has been identified in a law enforcement document as a possible Al Qaeda operative with ties to a radical London cleric, the Taliban and a terrorist training camp in Oregon.

James Ujaama, 36, was arrested in Denver on Monday on a material witness warrant, in connection with a federal grand jury investigation in northern Virginia into terrorist activity in the United States, a federal law enforcement official said.

Material witness warrants are issued when federal authorities believe someone has information about a criminal investigation--or is a suspect--but may be uncooperative or a flight risk.

FBI and Justice Department officials had no comment Tuesday, referring calls to the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, Va. A grand jury at the federal courthouse there has been investigating a wide range of alleged terrorist activity, including the potential role alleged conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui may have played in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Ujaama, a Seattle resident who also goes by the name Bilal Ahmed, has denied any wrongdoing, particularly having any ties to terrorist activity. His mother and other family members confirmed his arrest and said Ujaama's younger brother Mustafa was briefly detained by authorities Monday before being released.

The Times reported two weeks ago that the FBI had been investigating Ujaama for his alleged ties to Sheikh Abu Hamza Al-Masri, an alleged European recruiter for the Al Qaeda terrorist network based at a London mosque.

Authorities also said that they suspect Ujaama helped Abu Hamza provide the Taliban regime in Afghanistan with computers before Sept. 11 and that he and his brother may have been scouting the northern United States in recent months for potential targets for a terrorist attack.

According to the FBI document, James and Mustafa Ujaama were born in Denver and raised in Seattle under the given names of Earl James Thompson and Jon Alexander Thompson, 34, respectively.

Both brothers converted to Islam and worshiped at several now-defunct storefront Seattle mosques that the FBI believes were hotbeds of Muslim radicalism and, potentially, terrorism.

Authorities also recently arrested the imam, or prayer leader, of one of the mosques. Semi Osman, an immigrant of apparent Lebanese origin, was charged with immigration and gun violations. His attorney, Robert M. Leen, said the government is pressuring Osman for details about former acquaintances. A search warrant executed at Osman's home turned up several weapons, Islamic anti-U.S. literature, military maps and "instructions on poisoning water sources," according to FBI documents.

Ujaama's arrest was reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper on Tuesday. FBI agents took him into custody at his aunt's home, where he had been staying, family members said. Ujaama also has spent a lot of time in London in recent years, authorities said.

Both Ujaama and his brother are anti-drug activists in Seattle. Some community leaders have publicly decried the FBI's investigation, saying it is an unfair smear against Muslims.

Mustafa Ujaama issued a statement criticizing the investigation. He said the allegations by the government are "utterly ridiculous" and emphatically said that neither he nor his brother is a terrorist.

In addition to the Ujaama brothers, the Seattle investigation is focused on a group of American Muslims who the FBI believes may be working with foreign extremists and who may have been attempting to sponsor a "jihad training camp" in Oregon in 1999.

Charles Mandigo, the FBI chief in Seattle, said last week that the bureau does not discriminate against Muslims or target mosques or any other religious institution.

"Any investigations that the FBI may be conducting would be based on the actions of individuals and not their religion, national origin, race or any other such characteristics," Mandigo said.

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