U.S. Blocks Former Sailor's Request for New Trial
December 22, 2008
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Federal prosecutors said a former Navy sailor was properly convicted of leaking details about ship movements to suspected terrorist supporters and shouldn't get a new trial.
Hassan Abu-Jihaad was the only member of the military communicating with the group and had access to the classified information, prosecutors said in new court documents in New Haven. Mr. Abu-Jihaad was convicted in March of providing material support to terrorists and disclosing classified national defense information.
Mr. 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 wasn't attacked.
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.
Mr. Abu-Jihaad, who is from Phoenix, sought a new trial in October, saying prosecutors lacked evidence and inflamed the jury by playing videos he had purchased that promoted violent jihad, or holy war. The case is before the U.S. District Court in New Haven, Conn. because the internet service provider where the investigation started was based in Connecticut.
Prosecutors argued in court papers Friday that limited portions of the videos were properly introduced to show Mr. Abu-Jihaad's intent. They said the glorification of martyrs on the videos helped resolve a likely question by the jury over why Mr. Abu-Jihaad would provide information that could be used to launch a deadly attack on his own ship.
Authorities say there was sufficient evidence for a conviction.
They cited one e-mail he wrote to the suspected terrorism supporters in which he called the attack on the USS Cole a "martyrdom operation" and praised "the men who have brong (sic) honor ... in the lands of jihad Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, etc."
Prosecutors said Mr. Abu-Jihaad also made coded references to providing support for attacking U.S. military bases.
Authorities said the information had to have been leaked by an insider because it was not publicly known and contained military jargon. The leaked documents closely matched what Mr. Abu-Jihaad would have had access to as a signalman, authorities said.
Authorities also noted that the leaked information ended with a bold plea, "Please destroy message," that was further proof it came from an insider.
Mr. Abu-Jihaad's attorneys acknowledged he held what many would consider radical beliefs, but said his emails do not prove he leaked the details of the ship movements. They said the leaked details were full of errors that Mr. 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.
Mr. 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. Mr. Ahmad, who lived with his parents where the computer file was allegedly found, is to be extradited to the U.S.
Mr. Abu-Jihaad, who was honorably discharged in 2002, faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced in February.
Copyright © 2008 Associated Press