"The administration's continued insistence on criminalizing… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — A Nigerien man allegedly involved with Al Qaeda at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn, N.Y., marking the second time this month the Obama administration has announced criminal charges against suspected terrorists.
Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun was charged in U.S. District Court with conspiring to murder U.S. nationals abroad, plotting to bomb U.S. government facilities in Africa and other offenses. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. Harun, a Saudi native with Nigerien citizenship, is not expected to enter a plea to the allegations until his first open court appearance, on Friday.
The decision to try Harun in civilian court brought a sharp protest from Republican lawmakers, similar to the outcry when Sulaiman abu Ghaith, a senior Al Qaeda leader and Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, was named in a separate federal court indictment unsealed in New York on March 7. The GOP critics believe defendants are more valuable undergoing interrogations for intelligence information and should be tried in military commissions at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"The administration's continued insistence on criminalizing the war on terror by granting foreign terrorists constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent, is a troubling pattern," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). She said it surrendered "critical opportunities to obtain intelligence that can help save American lives and prevent future attacks."
But federal officials made it clear that they planned to push forward in civilian court.
"Harun not only intended to but did commit acts of terrorism against Americans," FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos said Wednesday. "Now he is subject to the American justice system."
According to federal law enforcement officials in New York, Harun was secretly indicted in February of last year and was taken into U.S. custody Oct. 4 when he was extradited from Italy after being arrested by Italian authorities on a refugee ship bound for that country.
The indictment alleges Harun, 43, who also goes by six aliases including "Spin Ghul" and "Joseph Johnson," traveled to Afghanistan just before the Sept. 11 attacks, joined the Al Qaeda terrorist network and began receiving military-type training at its camps. He allegedly fought against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan with an Al Qaeda group based in Pakistan, and followed up with plans to bomb U.S. diplomatic buildings in Nigeria.
He was arrested in 2005 in Libya but was released in June 2011. He was arrested again by Italian officials after allegedly assaulting officers on the refugee ship. In July last year, an appellate court in Naples, Italy, found him extraditable to the U.S., and in September the Italian justice minister ordered him turned over to the U.S.
FBI agents took him into custody Oct. 4 and flew him that day to New York. The next day he was arraigned on the charges during a secret, sealed proceeding at the U.S. courthouse in Brooklyn.
While in custody in Libya, Harun cooperated with authorities and described Al Qaeda operations, according to an April 2007 classified assessment report made public by WikiLeaks. Specifically, the report said, he named several Al Qaeda figures, including two who joined the group as far back as 1995.