A former Navy sailor faces a trial beginning Monday on terrorism charges alleging he communicated with suspected terrorists while on duty and leaked information that could have doomed his own ship.
"If we have members of our military who are aggressively passing on secrets to terrorists, that's cause for concern," said Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland. "It's a very aggressive act which would have brought real danger to the United States."
Abu-Jihaad, 32, of Phoenix, has pleaded not guilty to charges he provided material support to terrorists with intent to kill U.S. citizens and disclosed classified information relating to the national defense. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison.
Abu-Jihaad, an American-born Muslim convert formerly known as Paul R. Hall, was a signalman until he received an honorable discharge in 2002. He worked in a warehouse in Phoenix and has two children, friends said.
"He was very opinionated," Miguel Colon, a friend questioned about Abu-Jihaad by FBI agents, said last year. "He would talk about things in regard to the way the Iraq war was going. It was something he disagreed with."
Colon said he rarely saw his friend angry, though. Colon, who met Abu-Jihaad at a mosque in Phoenix, said Abu-Jihaad was dedicated to his prayers, reading Islamic literature and following rules against drinking.
Abu-Jihaad is charged in the same case as Babar Ahmad, a British computer specialist arrested in 2004 and awaiting extradition on accusations of running Web sites to raise money, appeal for fighters and provide equipment such as gas masks and night vision goggles for terrorists. The Web sites were the premier English-language mouthpiece of terrorists, according to Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism expert and a government witness for the trial.
The investigation was one of the first to target online terrorism financiers after the Sept. 11 attacks and experts have cited Abu-Jihaad's case as an example of how Internet propaganda fuels the radicalization process.
Authorities say investigators searching Ahmad's computers discovered files containing classified information about the positions of Navy ships and discussing their susceptibility to attack. The information included the makeup of a 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.
Prosecutors acknowledge they don't have direct proof that Abu-Jihaad leaked details of ship movements.
However, an FBI affidavit says he exchanged e-mails with Ahmad in 2000 and 2001 while on active duty on the USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer that was part of the battle group. In those e-mails, Abu-Jihaad discussed naval briefings and praised Osama bin Laden and the people who attacked the USS Cole in 2000, investigators say.
Abu-Jihaad also purchased videos from the group promoting violent jihad. A judge has allowed prosecutors to play portions of the graphic videos. Prosecutors say the videos depict martyrdom, explaining why Abu-Jihaad would allow his own ship to be targeted.
Prosecutors hope to bolster their case by playing intercepted phone calls to show what they say is Abu-Jihaad's coded speech and obsession with security. Authorities said Abu-Jihaad spoke of "hot meals" and "cold meals" in conversations with associates to refer to intelligence that would be useful to strike American military targets.
Abu-Jihaad's attorneys say the statements are irrelevant and the government's case is weak.
Source: AP News