Examiner : Prosecutors rest case against sailor after playing taped calls

Friday, February 29, 2008

Prosecutors rest case against sailor after playing taped calls

By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, The Associated Press | February 29, 2008

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Federal prosecutors played for jurors secretly taped phone conversations Friday in an effort to show that a former Navy sailor charged with leaking ship movements to suspected terrorism supporters used coded speech to discuss intelligence related to military bases.

In the calls, Hassan Abu-Jihaad, 32, of Phoenix, speaks of "fresh meals" and "cold meals" in conversations with associates. A "fresh meal" referred to useful information, while "cold meal" was code for outdated intelligence, prosecutors said.

Abu-Jihaad has pleaded not guilty to federal charges alleging he provided material support to terrorists and disclosed classified national defense information. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison.

Prosecutors rested their case Friday. Defense attorneys do not plan to call Abu-Jihaad to the stand and say they will rest their case after calling one witness Monday.

Abu-Jihaad, an American-born Muslim convert formerly known as Paul R. Hall, is accused of leaking information that could have endangered his own ship, the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold, and other ships. He was a Navy signalman and received an honorable discharge in 2002.

He is accused of passing along details that included the makeup of his Navy battle group, its planned movements and a drawing of the group's formation when it was to pass through the Straits of Hormuz on April 29, 2001.

William Chrisman, an FBI informant, testified that the calls were references to intelligence related to military bases.

"I ain't been working in the field of making meals in a long time," Abu-Jihaad said in a 2006 call played in court Friday. "I've been out of that quatro years."

Authorities said the call was an admission that Abu-Jihaad provided information to terrorists while in the Navy four years earlier.

Chrisman also said Abu-Jihaad referred to jihad as "j" or "7," referring to the highest level of heaven for those killed on the battlefield; and "MO" for martyrdom operation.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Kravitz cautioned the jury that Abu-Jihaad was not charged with anything connected to the conversations. Prosecutors hoped to boost their case by showing what they say are Abu-Jihaad's secretive ways.

Under cross-examination, Chrisman testified that Abu-Jihaad never admitted sending classified ship details through the Straits of Hormuz, a busy narrow Persian Gulf waterway where U.S. ships were frequently challenged by Iranian officials.

Prosecutors say investigators discovered files on a computer disk recovered from an alleged terror supporter's home in London that included the ship movements, as well as the number and type of personnel on each ship and the ships' capabilities. The file ended with instructions to destroy the message, according to testimony.

Navy officials have testified that, as a signalman, Abu-Jihaad would have had access to details of ship movements.

Prosecutors acknowledge that they don't have direct proof that Abu-Jihaad leaked details of ship movements, but cite e-mails he exchanged with the suspected terrorism supporters.

Prosecutors ended their case after calling an investigator who plotted out the rough location of Abu-Jihaad's ship as he exchanged the e-mails with the suspects.

Abu-Jihaad's attorneys made a standard request to dismiss the charges, saying the details that were allegedly leaked were so inaccurate they could not involve classified information. Prosecutors disagreed, while Kravitz did not make a ruling.

Abu-Jihaad was charged in the same case that led to the 2004 arrest of Babar Ahmad, a British computer specialist accused of running Web sites to raise money, appeal for fighters and provide equipment such as gas masks and night vision goggles for terrorists. Ahmad is to be extradited to the U.S.

Abu-Jihaad is being prosecuted in New Haven because the federal investigation first focused on a Connecticut-based Internet service provider.

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