Terrorism Trials: Civilian Court

Another Busy Week for DOJ on the Terrorism Prosecution Front: Seattle, Cleveland, Germany, Columbia

By Robert Chesney
Monday, June 27, 2011, 1:18 AM

Last week was a busy one for federal prosecutors in terrorism-related cases (though not atypically so).  There were at least four major developments worth highlighting, most of them largely under the national media's radar.  The details, culled from DOJ press releases, appear below:

The first case involves charges in an alleged plot to attack a military facility in Seattle (United States v. Abdul-Latif (W.D. Wash. June 23, 2011)).

SEATTLE – Two men were arrested late last night and are charged by criminal complaint with terrorism and firearms related charges.  The complaint alleges that Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, aka Joseph Anthony Davis, 33, of Seattle, and Walli Mujahidh, aka Frederick Domingue, Jr., 32, of Los Angeles, took possession of machine guns that they purchased and planned to use in an attack on the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) located on East Marginal Way, Seattle.

Law enforcement has been monitoring Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh, including the weapons transaction, to prevent the attack and protect the public.  Unbeknownst to the defendants, the weapons were rendered inoperable and posed no risk to the public.  The defendants initially planned an attack on Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, but later changed targets.  The defendants intended to carry out their attack with both grenades and machine guns.

“The complaint alleges these men intended to carry out a deadly attack against our military where they should be most safe, here at home,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. “This is a sobering reminder of our need to be vigilant and that our first line of defense is the people who live in our community. We were able to disrupt the plot because someone stepped forward and reported it to authorities. I commend the joint efforts of the FBI, the Seattle Police Department, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force who quickly recognized the seriousness of the threat and ensured the safety of the community.”

Law enforcement first became aware of the potential threat when a citizen alerted  them that he/she had been approached about participating in the attack and supplying firearms to the conspirators.  The person then agreed to work with law enforcement, which began monitoring Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh.  Since early June the conspirators were captured on audio and videotape discussing a violent assault on the Military Entrance Processing Station.  The MEPS is where each branch of the military screens and processes enlistees.  In addition to housing many civilian and military employees, the building houses a federal daycare center.

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Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh are charged by complaint with conspiracy to murder officers and employees of the United States, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (grenades), and possession of firearms in furtherance of crimes of violence.  Abdul-Latif is also charged with two counts of illegal possession of firearms. The defendants will make their initial appearance on the complaint at 2:30 p.m. in front of Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler, on the 12th floor of the federal courthouse at 700 Stewart Street, Seattle.

Both Abdul-Latif and Mujahidh face potential sentences of life in prison if convicted of the charges.

The second involves the sentencing of a woman who provided material support (financing) to Hezbollah (United States v. Akl (N.D. Ohio June 22, 2011)).

CLEVELAND -  Amera Akl was sentenced to 40 months in prison for her role in a conspiracy to ship hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hezbollah in Lebanon, announced Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, and Stephen D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Cleveland Division.

“This case has been about stopping the money flow to designated terrorist  organizations and today’s sentence sends a clear message about the seriousness of the conduct,” said U.S. Attorney Dettelbach. “The attorneys in my office, the agents in the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force should be commended.”

Akl, 38, of Toledo, Ohio, pleaded guilty last month to one count of conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.  Akl’s 40 month prison sentence will be followed three yearsof supervised release.  She also was ordered to forfeit a vehicle and $6,629.40
in cash.

Her husband, Hor Akl, 38, pleaded guilty last month to a total of five counts: conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization; conspiracy to violate money laundering statutes; perjury; and two counts of bankruptcy fraud.  He will be sentenced later this year.

...

The Akls met multiple times between August 2009 and June 2010 with a confidential source who was working on behalf of the FBI.  During those meetings, the Akls discussed ways to secretly send money to Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon, according to court documents.

Amera Akl told the confidential source during a meeting in Toledo on Aug. 30, 2009,that she dreamed of dressing like Hezbollah, carrying a gun and dying as a martyr, according to court documents.

Hor Akl, in the presence of his wife, told the confidential source during a Sept. 10, 2009, meeting in Toledo that he understood the money was being transported to “terrorists.” He also stated he understood the funds would be sent to a designated terrorist organization and used to target Israel, according to court documents.

Eventually, the Akls agreed to send the money by concealing it inside a 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer, which they planned send to Lebanon via a container ship.

On June 3, 2010, the confidential source delivered $200,000 to the Akls and told them he would return later in the day with more money. Shortly thereafter, the Akls were observed inside their residence wearing latex/rubber gloves, in close proximity to various automobile accessories, plastic wrap, duct tape,  latex/rubber gloves and fragrant insect repellant sticks. Hor Akl had prepared  a portion of the money for concealment into the auto accessories, wrapped it in plastic and taped into a bundle, according to court documents.

The third involves a prosecution for the murder of U.S. Air Force personnel in Germany (United States v. Uka (S.D.N.Y. June 21, 2011)).

NEW YORK -- A criminal complaint has been filed against Arid Uka, aka “Abu Reyyan,” charging him with murdering and attempting to murder U.S. Air Force (USAF) personnel in Frankfurt, Germany, on March 2, 2011, announced Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York; Janice K. Fedarcyk, Assistant Director-In-Charge of the New York Office of the FBI; and Raymond W. Kelly, Police Commissioner of New York City.

The complaint charges Uka with two counts of murdering officers of the U.S. government, one count of attempting to murder officers of the U.S. government, one count of using a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in death and one count of committing an act of violence at an international civil airport  resulting in the death of another person.  Uka, 21, is currently in custody in Germany.

According to the complaint filed today in Manhattan federal court:

On March 2, 2011, Uka approached a bus used to transport USAF personnel parked outside of Frankfurt International Airport.  After confirming that the bus was used to transport U.S. military personnel, Uka approached Nicholas Alden, a member of the USAF, from behind and shot and killed him.  After murdering Alden, Uka boarded the bus, in which approximately fifteen other USAF personnel were seated.

Once on board the bus, Uka shot the driver of the bus, Zachary Ryan Cuddeback, another member of the USAF.  Uka then repeatedly fired his gun inside the bus at other USAF members, shooting and badly injuring two other USAF members on the bus.  As Uka fired his gun, he repeated aloud an Arabic expression that means, “God is great,” and continued shooting until his gun did not fire.  Uka then ran off the bus, pursued by a USAF member, and was ultimately apprehended by German law enforcement officers in the airport terminal.

U.S. Attorney Bharara praised the investigative efforts of the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in New York, especially those JTTF members from the FBI and the New York City Police Department; the Air Force Office of Special Investigations; and the FBI’s Legal Attaché offices in Germany.  He also thanked the Justice Department’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs for their  assistance in this case, and thanked German law enforcement officials and prosecutors, who are conducting their own investigation of this case under German law.

The fourth involves the conviction of three FARC members in relation to the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen (United States v. Ortiz (S.D.N.Y. June 21, 2011)).

NEWYORK – Edilberto Berrio Ortiz, aka “El Gavilan,” Alejandro Palacios Rengifo, aka “El Gato,” and Anderson Chamapuro Dogirama, aka “El Tigre,” were convicted of hostage-taking and hostage-taking conspiracy in connection with the April 2008 kidnapping of an U.S. citizen in Panama by the 57th Front of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization, announced Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.   The defendants were found guilty on June 20, 2011, by U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff following a bench trial based on stipulated facts.  They were arrested in Colombia in December 2009 and extradited to the United States in late 2010 and early 2011.  After a prior hearing in the case, Judge Rakoff ruled that the defendants were precluded as a matter of law from presenting a defense of duress to the charges.

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According to the indictment unsealed on Sept. 28, 2009, other court documents and testimony and exhibits from the hearing and trial:

The FARC was formed in 1964 and is structured as a military organization, with approximately 10,000 armed guerillas organized into seven “blocs,” 68 numbered “Fronts” (including the 57th Front), nine named “Fronts,” and four urban  “militias.”  It is dedicated to the violent overthrow of Colombia’s  democratically-elected government and has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State.

The 57th Front operates in the territory within Colombia’s Choco Department, which borders Panama.  It supports the FARC’s terrorist activities through narcotics trafficking and kidnapping for ransom, including the kidnapping of Americans and other foreign nationals.

On April 4, 2008, at the direction of 57th Front leadership, a U.S. citizen was kidnapped in Panama City.  Ortiz, Rengifo and Dogirama guarded the victim while he was held for ransom at a FARC jungle camp for approximately 10 months.  The ransom was demanded from the victim’s relatives in the
United States, who were told they would never see him alive again if the ransom was not paid.  The victim was released in February 2009, after a member of his family paid the ransom.

Although the charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, the U.S. has given assurances to the government of Colombia that the defendants will not receive life sentences.  Ortiz, Rengifo and Dogirama are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Rakoff on Oct. 24, 2011.