FOX CT : In A Reversal, Terror Suspects Agree To Plead Guilty

Thursday, December 05, 2013

In A Reversal, Terror Suspects Agree To Plead Guilty

By EDMUND H. MAHONY | | The Hartford Courant | December 5, 2013

NEW HAVEN -— Two British nationals have agreed to plead guilty next week to terror-related charges accusing them of developing a ground-breaking Internet network to raise money, recruits and equipment for groups waging holy war in the Middle East.

The decisions to admit guilt by Babar Ahmad, 38, and Syed Talha Ahsan, 34, both of London, appear to end a decade-long legal fight by the two. They challenged extradition to the U.S., first in the British courts and later in the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that long sentences in high-security U.S. prisons would violate their human rights.

Ahmad and Ahsan are accused of operating a groundbreaking network of Internet sites known as Azzam publications that attracted sympathizers and support to the jihadist cause from around the world. Terror experts said the operators of the Azzam sites had direct access to leaders of the Chechen mujahedeen, the Taliban in Afghanistan and associated groups, and used it to support radical holy warriors.

Among other things, U.S. and British authorities found a document describing the classified movements of a U.S. Navy battle group operating in the Middle East during a search of Ahmad's home in London in 2003.

Ahmad and Ahsan are being prosecuted in the U.S. and, in particular, Connecticut, because of the role U.S. authorities played in closing the Azzam network and because the computer network's electronic communications passed through a Connecticut-based Internet service provider.

They were extradited to the U.S. a year ago, with three other men suspected of terror plots in the U.S. or targeting U.S. citizens abroad,

Ahmad and Ahsan faced life sentences if convicted after a trial. In their agreements with federal prosecutors, the two agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and providing material support to terrorists. The charges carry maximum sentences of 15 years.

Indictments in the case accuse the two, through their network of Azzam websites, of promoting violent jihad and distributing jihadi training manuals, interviews with al-Qaida and Chechen leaders and martyrdom videos of fallen jihadists.

Azzam also raised money through the sale of violent video recordings, filmed by jihadists, of battle scenes and the executions of Russian prisoners in Chechnya, formerly part of the Soviet Union.

Ahmad and Ahsan are accused of providing, directly or through the Azzam network, military equipment, communications equipment, lodging, training, safe houses, transportation, false identity documents and other supplies to terrorists and their recruits.

The Azzam network previously was a subject of a federal terror trial in New Haven in 2008, in a case that resulted in the conviction of Hassan Abu-jihaad, a Californian and convert to Islam. While serving as a signalman in the U.S. Navy, Abu-jihaad transmitted to Azzam the anticipated movements of U.S. warships as they moved through the 21-mile-wide Strait of Hormuz in 2001.

Abu-jihaad, drawn to Azzam through its bloody battlefield videos, was convicted of providing material support to terrorists and disclosing national defense information. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

A government terror expert who testified against Abu-jihaad said that Azzam was the premier jihadist site on the Internet while it operated.

"The reason the website was so credible was that it had real access," said Evan Kohlmann, a terror consultant who has worked with the U.S. government. "It wasn't just reprocessing material that it had gotten elsewhere. It was generating original jihadist content and it was incredibly powerful material."

Ahmad and Ahsan, computer engineers in London before their arrests, are accused of working on the Azzam network from about 1997 until authorities closed it in 2004. Before that, Ahmad fought with Islamist forces in Bosnia.

Tens of thousands of Britons joined their fight against extradition to the U.S. The men and their supporters believe that the two should be tried in the United Kingdom because that is where they are accused of committing offenses.

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