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Trial Begins for Four in Terror Case

Defendants deny being part of sleeper cell, and say they've been targeted as Arab immigrants.

March 27, 2003|From Reuters

DETROIT — The first terrorism trial of alleged Muslim extremists swept up by federal officials after the Sept. 11 attacks opened Wednesday.

The four defendants in the case, which began with arrests in Detroit on Sept. 17, 2001, are accused of belonging to a "sleeper operational combat cell" that the Justice Department accuses of conspiring to commit terrorist attacks in Jordan, Turkey and the United States.

The defendants -- Moroccans Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi and Algerian Farouk Ali-Haimoud -- have pleaded not guilty.

U.S. Atty. Richard Convertino alleged that they belonged to a radical Islamic group that follows fatwas, or edicts, from Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and calls for violence from Osama bin Laden, accused of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks.

"This is not a case about young Arab men coming to the United States to live the American dream," Convertino said.

However, attorneys for the defendants described their clients as innocent of the charges and victims of a seemingly random roundup that targeted hundreds of Arab immigrants in the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.

They also said that Youssef Hmimssa, a potential defendant in the case whom Convertino presented Monday as his star witness, would fail to hold up under scrutiny because he faces a catalog of separate charges and was testifying only to keep out of prison.

"We expect to cross-examine him very vigorously about his deal," said James Thomas, a lawyer for Hannan.

"Take a look at what he says with a healthy degree of skepticism," Thomas told the jury.

William Swor, who is representing Elmardoudi, said: "The evidence is either conjured or bought and paid for."

Referring to the "deception, dedication and destruction" alleged by Convertino, Swor said: "I think more likely [it's] much ado about nothing."

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