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Two Plead Guilty in Terror-Cell Case

October 17, 2003|From Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — The final two defendants in an alleged Portland terrorist cell pleaded guilty Thursday and agreed to serve 18 years in federal prison.

Patrice Lumumba Ford and Jeffrey L. Battle were among seven Portland-area residents charged with plotting to wage war against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Four others pleaded guilty earlier. The remaining suspect is thought to have been killed in a shootout in Pakistan.

Ford and Battle pleaded guilty to conspiracy to levy war against the U.S., which carried a maximum sentence of 20 years and a $250,000 fine.

The two men stood in the courtroom and Ford told U.S. District Judge Robert D. Jones, "I plead guilty." Battle then did the same.

Stanley Cohen, a lawyer representing Ford, said his client pleaded guilty because he doubted he could receive a fair trial.

"In this political climate, it is impossible for a black man, a Muslim, an activist ... to get a fair trial," Cohen said.

The pleas came during a hearing in which defense attorneys intended to challenge evidence gathered under the USA Patriot Act. Because of the pleas, those challenges were not heard.

In Washington, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said the pleas showed the worth of new law enforcement powers granted under the act.

In October 2002, agents nabbed Ford, Battle, brothers Ahmed Ibrahim Bilal and Muhammad Ibrahim Bilal and Battle's ex-wife, October M. Lewis, in what Ashcroft called a "defining day" in the fight against terrorism.

A sixth man charged along with them, Jordanian native Habis Abdulla Al Saoub, may have been among eight Al Qaeda suspects killed in an Oct. 2 shootout in Pakistan, officials in Washington said Thursday. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were waiting for a final identification.

In the spring, authorities arrested a seventh suspect, Maher "Mike" Hawash.

Prosecutors said the group plotted to join the Taliban in fall 2001 to fight against the U.S. armed forces then fighting in Afghanistan. The six male defendants traveled to China in a failed attempt to enter Afghanistan, according to court documents.

Prosecutors said Lewis wired $2,130 to her ex-husband while he traveled overseas. Lewis last month pleaded guilty to money laundering and agreed to testify against her former husband and Ford.

In September, the Bilal brothers pleaded guilty to charges including conspiring to help Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Both face up to 14 years in federal prison.

Hawash pleaded guilty in August to conspiring to aid the Taliban and agreed to testify against other suspects. He will serve at least seven years in federal prison.

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