WASHINGTON — A Somali immigrant running a cellphone business in the Midwest has been indicted on charges of plotting with Al Qaeda operatives to blow up a shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio, the government announced Monday.
Nuradin M. Abdi also was linked to another Ohio immigrant, Iyman Faris, who last fall pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison for plotting explosions at the Brooklyn Bridge and on a train bound for Washington.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 15, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Terrorism conviction -- An article in Friday's Section A, as well as four previous articles, about an Ohio truck driver's terrorism conviction said Iyman Faris pleaded guilty in 2003 to collaborating with Al Qaeda in a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. The plot involved severing the bridge's suspension cables.
The 32-year-old Abdi was arrested on immigration charges Nov. 28 and indicted on the terrorism charges Thursday by a federal grand jury in Ohio.
Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft announced the case as the indictment was unsealed in Columbus. According to a government motion also unsealed Monday, Abdi and Faris "initiated a plot to blow up a Columbus area shopping mall, and accepted bomb-making instructions" from unidentified conspirators.
The government didn't say what mall was targeted or provide any other details about the alleged plot.
Federal prosecutors also alleged that Abdi lied on passport travel records and went to Ethiopia for "jihad training," which he planned to use to attack the United States.
Ashcroft revealed the case after recent warnings by top U.S. security officials that the Al Qaeda terrorism network was preparing fresh attacks on this country -- and that some of the terrorist attack plans on America were "90%" complete.
"Current credible intelligence indicates that Al Qaeda wants to hit the United States and to hit us hard," the attorney general said Monday. "We know our enemies will go to great lengths to lie in wait and to achieve the death and destruction they desire.''
The Justice Department has had mixed success in prosecuting terror cases after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It has won scores of guilty pleas, but often by dropping the most serious charges. It has taken three cases to trial, and at least some defendants have been acquitted in each.
Last week, a federal jury in Boise, Idaho, acquitted a Saudi computer student of charges that he had spread terrorism on the Internet. The government was sharply criticized for bringing the case, which a former CIA operative testified was a waste of time. In Detroit, a judge has threatened to throw out all three convictions in a "sleeper cell" case because the prosecution allegedly withheld information.
Abdi's attorney, Doug Weigle, who represented him on the immigration charges, could not be reached for comment Monday.
Abdi was named in a four-count indictment for conspiring to attack the United States, providing money and his services to the Al Qaeda cause, and immigration fraud. He faces up to 80 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
According to the government's case, Abdi lied to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in April 1999 when he said he was going to Germany and Saudi Arabia to visit Mecca and "my relative."
Instead, the government alleges, he went to Ogaden, Ethiopia, "for the purpose of obtaining military-style training in preparation for violent jihad."
There, the government said, Abdi was trained in radio usage, guns, guerrilla warfare and bombs.
"The defendant's purpose in obtaining this training," prosecutors said, "was to ready himself to participate in violent jihad conflicts overseas and any activities his Al Qaeda co-conspirators might ask him to perform here in the United States."
Specifically, the government said, Abdi conspired with Faris to blow up an unidentified Columbus-area shopping mall -- a plot that came undone after government surveillance of their activities.
Prosecutors said, for instance, that Faris "picked the defendant up at the airport" when he returned to this country in March 2000. At that time, Abdi was using a refugee travel document that he had obtained fraudulently to return from Africa, the government said.
Faris, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Kashmir, was sentenced in October in federal court in Alexandria, Va., after pleading guilty to conspiracy and providing material support and resources to Al Qaeda.
In his plea agreement, the Columbus-based truck driver admitted that he and others had cased the Brooklyn Bridge and a Washington train, and that he had met with senior Al Qaeda leaders about his different truck routes in the United States and deliveries for airport cargo planes.
The government said Al Qaeda was interested because cargo planes would hold "more weight and more fuel" and could inflict more damage as terrorist weapons.
"America offers freedom and the protection of human dignity to oppressed people who come to our shores," Ashcroft said. "Unfortunately, some American citizens, as well as others given haven here, have chosen to betray these values and to support the terrorists' goals and plots."
Ashcroft was joined at Monday's announcement by other top federal law enforcement officials, including Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security, and Michael J. Garcia, assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The announcement seemed designed to show that federal authorities were united on anti-terrorist efforts, after earlier being criticized that some officials were not properly apprised about the warning last month that Al Qaeda was 90% ready to strike again.
Said Tom Ridge, secretary of Homeland Security: "Today's indictment demonstrates how the departments of Justice and Homeland Security are working in partnership."