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Portland Terror Suspect Released Pending Trial

Court: The government failed to show that October Lewis is a flight risk, the judge says. She is one of six accused of backing Al Qaeda.

October 11, 2002|PETER Y. HONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal judge ruled Thursday that a woman accused of plotting to wage war against the United States must be freed pending her trial because prosecutors could not prove she posed a threat or was likely to flee.

October M. Lewis, one of six people whom authorities have identified as members of a Portland-based terrorist cell supportive of Al Qaeda, was ordered released here by Judge Janice M. Stewart.

"I don't believe the government met the standard of clear and convincing evidence" to keep Lewis jailed, Stewart said. She imposed conditions for the release that include electronic monitoring and requirements that Lewis find a job or attend school, and live with a friend.

Prosecutors immediately requested a review of the magistrate's order by the presiding judge in the case--a request Stewart granted. U.S. District Judge Ancer L. Haggerty could reverse Stewart's decision today.

Lewis is accused of sending money to her ex-husband, Jeffrey L. Battle, and other men who were in Asia last year in what the government says was a foiled attempt to reach Afghanistan to join Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters battling U.S. forces.

Prosecutors presented new evidence during the detention hearing, including further details of the group's travel arrangements, e-mails, seized documents and transcripts of surreptitiously taped remarks by Battle.

Assistant U.S. Atty. David Atkinson said the government tape-recorded Battle saying he wanted to fight the U.S. in Afghanistan and that he also "intended to engage in some form of violent activity here domestically against Jewish synagogues." Atkinson said Battle was recorded saying he would not carry out such attacks as suicide missions "because he wanted to live to witness" the events.

Battle was also recorded saying he felt he was "behind enemy lines" in the U.S. "working undercover on behalf of radical Islamist fundamentalism," Atkinson said.

Battle said on tape that he "loved" Osama bin Laden and wanted to fight in Afghanistan, believing Bin Laden would in turn support his family financially, Atkinson testified.

Atkinson also told of a book agents found in the Battle family car titled "Join the Caravan," which he said calls for a war against the U.S. and includes a jacket endorsement from Bin Laden.

In presenting the government's case for Lewis' detention, Atkinson also acknowledged that a "cooperating witness" has provided law enforcement officials with information on Battle.

John Ransom, Lewis' attorney, argued that the statements attributed to Battle should not be considered against Lewis. "Mr. Battle is not having a detention hearing. They are not her [Lewis'] statements. [Prosecutors] are simply trying to prejudice the court."

Atkinson also read from e-mails between Lewis and Battle that told of plans by Lewis to join her former husband abroad, which he said shows that Lewis is a flight risk.

Announcing her ruling, Stewart cited Lewis' lack of a criminal history and said there are "no other indicators of danger to the community other than what appears to be the offense," and that Lewis did not pose enough of a flight risk to warrant keeping her jailed. As Stewart spoke, Lewis' mother, Vivian Lewis, burst into tears in the back of the courtroom.

Lewis, 25, was arrested with Battle, 32, in a predawn raid last Friday at their Portland apartment.

Also that day, Patrice Lumumba Ford, 31, was arrested at a nearby apartment and former Portland resident Muhammad Bilal, 22, was arrested at his sister's home in Dearborn, Mich. Bilal's older brother, Ahmed Bilal, 24, turned himself in to Malaysian authorities Sunday and was deported to the U.S. on Thursday.

A sixth man charged in the same operation, Habis Abdulla Al Saoub, remains at large abroad, authorities said. Al Saoub is a legal permanent resident of the U.S. born in Jordan. All others are U.S. citizens born in this country.

All six were indicted and charged with conspiring to levy war against the U.S. and to provide support to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Four of the men--Battle, Ford, Al Saoub and Ahmed Bilal--also face a weapon charge.

Ford and Battle face detention hearings next week.

Lewis was the second terrorism suspect released pending trial this week. A Buffalo, N.Y., magistrate on Tuesday allowed one of six men accused of attending a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan to be released from custody with a $600,000 bond and 16 conditions.

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