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American Student Is Convicted in Assassination and Terror Plots

November 23, 2005|From Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — An American Muslim student charged with joining Al Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President Bush was convicted Tuesday on all counts.

The federal jury rejected Ahmed Omar Abu Ali's claim that Saudi security officers had whipped and tortured him into a false confession.

Abu Ali, a 24-year-old U.S. citizen born to a Jordanian father and raised in Virginia, could get life in prison on charges including conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to hijack aircraft and providing support to Al Qaeda. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 17.

The jury deliberated for 2 1/2 days. Abu Ali showed little emotion when the verdict was read. He did not testify at his trial.

Abu Ali's lawyer, Khurrum Wahid, said he would appeal. He said his client was "disappointed that the jury didn't see the truth, and he wants us to continue the fight."

Wahid said he believed it was hard for anyone to get a fair trial when the accusations involved Al Qaeda.

"I think the country went through a very traumatic event on Sept. 11, and it's very difficult for people to separate that from the facts in a particular case," he said.

U.S. Atty. Paul J. McNulty said in a statement that the evidence "firmly established Abu Ali as a dangerous terrorist who posed a grave threat to our national security.... It serves as a clear warning to all that terrorists can and will be brought to the bar of justice."

The three-week trial included a videotaped confession in which Abu Ali said he had joined Al Qaeda because he hated the U.S. for its support of Israel. Saudi interrogators' notes said that he discussed numerous potential plots, but the one that most appealed to him was killing "the leader of the infidels" -- President Bush.

Defense lawyers argued that Abu Ali gave a false confession after being whipped and beaten by Saudi security forces.

Abu Ali, of Falls Church, Va., testified at a pretrial hearing about his alleged torture, but at trial he relied on the testimony of a doctor and a psychiatrist who said his account was consistent with having been tortured.

Prosecutors denied that Abu Ali, who was enrolled in an Islamic university in Medina at the time of his arrest, was mistreated. They presented videotaped testimony from his Saudi interrogators who said he confessed immediately after being confronted with evidence from other Al Qaeda members.

A dermatologist testified for the government that faint lines on Abu Ali's back were surface scratches that could have been caused by superficial injuries.

Defense lawyers had sought to have the confession tossed out and the case dismissed at a pretrial hearing last month. But Judge Gerald Bruce Lee allowed the prosecution to go forward, saying he had doubts about the credibility of Abu Ali's account.

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