NYT : Federal Informer Testifies Against Sailor Accused of Aiding Terrorism

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Federal Informer Testifies Against Sailor Accused of Aiding Terrorism

By ALISON LEIGH COWAN | November 29, 2007

NEW HAVEN, Nov. 28 — A former American sailor accused of helping support terrorism by leaking classified information about the whereabouts of Navy vessels in early 2001 told jihadist supporters that if they were not going to do anything with his information to “just destroy it,” a government witness told a federal judge here on Wednesday.

The comment made by the witness, William Crisman, was one of several revelations in the government’s case against Hassan Abu-Jihaad, 31, the defendant. Known as Paul R. Hall before his conversion to Islam, he has been in federal custody since his arrest in March in Phoenix, where he lived. Wednesday’s evidentiary hearing before Judge Mark R. Kravitz, expected to last the rest of the week, was convened to decide what information can be admitted at his trial next year.

Investigators began looking into his activities after British authorities raided the home of Babar Ahmad, a British citizen, in London in December 2003 and found password-protected information on a computer about a group of battleships that were scheduled to pass through the Strait of Hormuz on or around April 29, 2001.

Connecticut has been seeking to extradite Mr. Ahmad for prosecution since 2004 on charges that he provided material support to terrorist organizations and causes.

The authorities say that the information about the Navy’s movements, and its vulnerability to attack, ultimately came from Mr. Abu-Jihaad while he was stationed on the guided missile destroyer Benfold and serving primarily as its signal man. The document containing the information about troop movements ends with the caveat “please destroy message.”

E-mail messages between Mr. Abu-Jihaad and a group of pro-jihadi Web sites run by Mr. Ahmad show that the sailor bought jihadi videos from the organization and shared with Mr. Ahmad’s group details of a briefing that he had received on board the Benfold after the bombing of the Cole, another Navy vessel, six months earlier. In one message, Mr. Abu-Jihaad refers to that bombing as a “martyrdom operation.”

He is being prosecuted in Connecticut because one of the Internet service providers involved in e-mail traffic between him and the jihadi groups was based here, in Trumbull.

At the hearing, federal prosecutors played audiotapes of phone conversations they had gathered through wiretaps, and audiotapes of conversations gathered with the help of the government witness, Mr. Crisman.

In one tape where Mr. Abu-Jihaad is recommending jihadi literature to a friend, he utters the words “under the black leaves,” and counsels the friend to consider the first letter of each word. On the stand, David G. Dillon, an F.B.I. agent, testified that he took the comment to be a coded reference to Usama bin Laden, the head of Al-Qaeda.

Mr. Crisman, a former gang member who converted to Islam and speaks Arabic, said he had offered himself as a government informer after being denied military service because of prior felony convictions. He said he eventually befriended, with the government’s blessing, Derrick L. Shareef, a former roommate of Mr. Abu-Jihaad, and to a lesser extent, Mr. Abu-Jihaad himself.

He said that he often conversed with them in code. “J” was short for “Jihad,” and “7” was a reference to the highest level of paradise achievable by martyrs on the battlefield.

He also testified that Mr. Shareef told him Mr. Abu-Jihaad had indicated he was the one who provided the information to the overseas group about the Navy vessels shortly after Mr. Ahmad’s own arrest made news in 2004.

Mr. Crisman testified that Mr. Shareef said Mr. Abu-Jihaad told the person who received the information that if they were not likely to act on the information to “just destroy it.”

Mr. Shareef, whose voice was heard on many of the audiotapes, is not likely to testify at this week’s hearing. He pleaded guilty on Wednesday in Chicago to plotting to ignite grenades at a mall full of holiday shoppers last December in Rockford, Ill.

He was arrested on Dec. 6 when he attempted to trade some stereo speakers to an undercover agent for four grenades and a handgun.

Mr. Abu-Jihaad’s lawyers, Dan E. LaBelle and Robert G. Golger, have argued in recent court filings that much of the government’s evidence was gathered illegally or is hearsay and inadmissible.

The lawyers argued in a newly unsealed brief that Mr. Shareef’s comments to federal authorities also support their client by corroborating that the two had a falling-out in the fall of 2006. They cite an F.B.I. report from the Chicago case in which Mr. Shareef complained to agents that he was frustrated with Mr. Abu-Jihaad because “it would take 20 years before Abu-Jihaad would be ready to do anything for the cause.”

Mr. Crisman, a self-described farmer, said he had allowed Mr. Shareef to come live with him, his three wives and their houseful of children. Prompted by the prosecutor, Stephen Reynolds, Mr. Crisman said that only one of his marriages was recognized by the State of Illinois, although the Koran allows men to take four wives at a time.

“Still looking for wife No. 4?” Mr. Reynolds asked.

“If God permits,” Mr. Crisman answered.