Convicted former sailor seeks new trial
By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN | Associated Press Writer | October 3, 2008
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - A former Navy sailor convicted of leaking details about ship movements to suspected terrorist supporters sought a new trial Friday, saying prosecutors lacked evidence and inflamed the jury.
Hassan Abu-Jihaad filed the motion in U.S. District Court in New Haven, where he was convicted in March of providing material support to terrorists and disclosing classified national defense information.
Abu-Jihaad, who was a signalman aboard the USS Benfold, was 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 to pass through the dangerous Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf on April 29, 2001. The details also included statements such as, "They have nothing to stop a small craft with RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) etc., except their SEALS' stinger missiles."
The ship was not attacked.
Abu-Jihaad says there was no proof he leaked the information and that prosecutors inflamed the jury by playing videos he had purchased that promoted a violent jihad, or holy war.
"Playing the video tapes that he purchased added nothing to the government's proof and merely inflamed the prejudices of the jury," Abu-Jihaad's attorneys wrote. "Moreover, since the defendant was not on trial for committing terrorist acts, the admission into evidence of violent acts of terror (and torture) created a significant and unnecessary risk of undue prejudice."
His attorneys cited a federal appeals court decision Thursday that overturned the convictions of a Yemeni cleric and his deputy, finding they were prejudiced by inflammatory testimony about unrelated links to terrorism.
Prosecutors said they would respond in court.
The leak came amid increased wariness on the part of U.S. Navy commanders whose ships headed to the Persian Gulf in the months after a terrorist ambush in 2000 killed 17 sailors aboard the USS Cole.
Prosecutors said Abu-Jihaad sympathized with the enemy and acknowledged disclosing military intelligence. But they acknowledged they did not have direct proof that he leaked the details about the ship movements.
Authorities said those had to have been leaked by an insider because they were not publicly known and contained military jargon. The leaked documents closely matched what Abu-Jihaad would have had access to as a signalman, authorities said.
Prosecutors also said Abu-Jihaad was the only member of the military who was communicating with the alleged terrorist supporters. They cited one e-mail in which he called the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 a "martyrdom operation" and praised "the men who have brong (sic) honor ... in the lands of jihad Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, etc."
Abu-Jihaad's attorneys acknowledged he held what many would consider radical beliefs, but said his e-mails do not prove he leaked the details of the ship movements. They said the leaked details were full of errors that Abu-Jihaad would not have made.
Prosecutors say investigators discovered files on a computer disk recovered from a suspected terrorist 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.
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, who lived with his parents where the computer file was allegedly found, is to be extradited to the U.S.
Abu-Jihaad, who was honorably discharged in 2002, faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced in December.