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Two Sentenced in Terrorism Conspiracy

The 'Portland Seven' members who tried to join the Taliban to fight the U.S. rail against the government before getting 18-year terms.

November 25, 2003|Lynn Marshall and Tomas Alex Tizon | Times Staff Writers

PORTLAND, Ore. — Two members of the so-called Portland Seven terrorist cell defiantly defended their actions and condemned the government's case against them Monday before being sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Patrice Lumumba Ford, 32, and Jeffrey Leon Battle, 33, both American Muslims, pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to wage war against the United States; the pair, along with fellow radical Muslims, had tried to join the Taliban to battle U.S. troops in Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Four other members of the group have been given or promised lighter sentences in exchange for cooperating with authorities, and one is believed to be dead. Unlike the other defendants, Battle and Ford have refused to cooperate in the ongoing terrorism investigation. The two initially were charged with money laundering, supporting terrorism and other offenses that, combined, could have meant life in prison. All but the conspiracy charges were dropped as part of a plea agreement.

The U.S. attack on Afghanistan was "an attack on Islam itself," Ford said in a controlled courtroom tirade Monday. He spoke clearly and at times rapidly. He became emotional only while talking of his love for his young son.

Ford said that U.S. policies, including what he called "President Bush's cruise-missile diplomacy," are tantamount to genocide against the Muslim people. "I refuse to stand pat in the face of such policies," he said. "I love my homeland dearly, and that homeland is the land of Allah."

Ford depicted himself as a hero answering a call for help by fellow Muslims.

"Hero, no. Terrorist, perhaps. Traitor, yes," said U.S. Atty. Charles Groeder. "Mr. Ford is the saddest of the group. This is a man who had a future ... but somehow, at some point, changed and began to focus on the concept of jihad," or holy war.

Judge Robert. E. Jones told Ford he was "an insult to the true Muslim religion."

Ford, once an intern at Portland City Hall, is the son of a former Black Panther activist. While in college, Ford learned to speak Chinese; he has said that he converted to Islam while studying in China in the late 1990s.

When it was Battle's turn to address the court, he said: "The government does not want to get to the truth. Their intent is to intimidate the local Muslim community ... and that is an affront in which I will never cooperate, no matter what reward the government dangles before me."

Jones looked at Battle and said, "You are a traitor to this country, and for that you will do this time, and justly so."

Battle, a Florida native, has said that he converted to Islam after watching Spike Lee's movie "Malcolm X." A certified nursing assistant, Battle once served as a reservist in the U.S. Army.

He and Ford settled in Portland and joined with other militant Muslims, whom they met at two local mosques: the Masjid As-Sabr in southwest Portland and the Bilal Mosque in Beaverton, Ore.

The group came to be known as the "Portland Seven." All lived here in 2000 and 2001, and called themselves "Katibat Al-Mawt," which prosecutors said loosely translates to "squad of death."

Court documents depict them as a loosely knit group whose members studied books and films on jihad and participated in firearms and martial-arts training before the Sept. 11 attacks. Members expressed interest in becoming martyrs.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, whose Taliban government supported Osama bin Laden, prompted six of the "Portland Seven" to join the fight against U.S. forces.

In October 2001, the six traveled to China, where they tried several times to cross into Pakistan but failed because of visa problems and heightened Chinese security. Most of the group eventually returned to Portland.

One member, Habis Abdulla al Saoub, the only one to reach the battlefield, was believed killed last month by Pakistani troops in a raid on an Al Qaeda encampment, according to the Justice Department.

In September 2002, less than a month before he was arrested in Portland, Battle asked an undercover FBI informant if he knew how to make a bomb and expressed interest in arming himself for a possible confrontation with authorities, according to court documents.

Battle's former wife, October Martinique Lewis, 26, the only woman in the group, pleaded guilty Sept. 26 to money laundering and is scheduled to be sentenced next week to up to 3 1/2 years in prison.

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