Suspect in Oregon jihad-training camp nabbed in Britain on U.S. warrant
Haroon Rashid Aswat, accused of trying to set up a training camp in Bly, Ore., for jihad fighters, was arrested in Britain yesterday on...
LONDON — Haroon Rashid Aswat, accused of trying to set up a training camp in Bly, Ore., for jihad fighters, was arrested in Britain yesterday on a U.S. warrant, police said.
The warrant accuses the suspected Islamic militant of conspiring with others between October 1999 and April 2000 in a plan to set up a camp in Bly aimed at training and equipping individuals to "fight jihad in Afghanistan," British police said.
The arrest of Aswat, a British citizen of Indian descent, comes as British prosecutors said they would consider treason charges against any Islamic extremists who express support for terrorism.
Aswat, 30, had been detained since July 20 in Zambia, where he was questioned about 20 phone calls reportedly made on his South African cellphone with some of the bombers responsible for the July 7 transit attacks in London that killed 52 people and the four bombers.
British newspaper reports quoting intelligence sources there have in recent days played down the possibility Aswat was an important suspect in those bombings.
He was deported yesterday to Britain, said Zambian Home Affairs Secretary Peter Mumba.
Aswat is an associate of Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who from a London mosque espoused a fiery doctrine that called for a holy war against the West and who expressed admiration for Osama Bin Laden.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan today unsealed a complaint charging Aswat with providing material support to terrorists, knowing his efforts were to be used to "kill, kidnap and maim persons and to damage property in a foreign country... ."
The complaint, filed June 20, is based on statements from a "cooperating witness," identified by federal sources as James Ujaama, a Seattle man who pleaded guilty in 2002 to aiding the outlaw Taliban government in Afghanistan and who has agreed to help government prosecutors.
The Aswat complaint is the third filed in connection with aborted plans by Ujaama to set up a Jihad training camp on a rural ranch in Bly, Ore., in 1999. Besides Ujaama and Aswat, a federal grand jury in New York last year indicted Abu Hamza for conspiring to set up the Bly training camp. Shortly thereafter, the British government charged Abu Hamza -- an unabashed follower of Osama bin Laden -- with fomenting terrorism and inciting murder.
Aswat was one of two Jihad-trained fighters allegedly sent from London to the U.S. by Abu Hamza to assess the Bly property and help in training Jihad fighters. Aswat and another man, previously identified as Oussama Kassir, were met by Ujaama at a Greyhound bus depot in November 1999 in Seattle and then traveled on to Bly.
The unsealed complaint reveals, for the first time, the contents of two faxes Ujaama has told the government he sent to Abu Hamza, soliciting the help.
One fax contained brochure-like language aimed to recruit trainees, promising the camp would offer training in "archery, combat and martial arts, (and) rifle and handgun handling."
It also contained a direct appeal to Abu Hamza to come to the U.S. to lead the camp, which Ujaama noted was being set up in a "pro-militia and fire-arms state."
It promised the London radical "a secure environment from which 'kafirs' (i.e., non-believers) would not be able to remove [Abu Hamza] without a serious armed fight."
The 2002 indictment charged Ujaama, who was later sentenced to two years of prison in return for cooperating with federal investigators. The indictment also cited Abu Hamza, Aswat and Kassir as unnamed, unindicted co-conspirators, according to sources familiar with the case.
Aswat and Kassir "inspected the proposed jihad training camp at the Bly property ... and they and others participated in firearms training and viewed a video recording on the subject of improvised poisons" in November and December 1999, the indictment said.
Seattle prosecutors had initially sought to name and charge Aswat in the 2002 indictment, according to federal sources familiar with the indictment. But the Justice Department turned the case over to the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York City, which generally handles big international terrorism investigations that require extradition proceedings.
In May 2004, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced an 11-count indictment by a New York federal grand jury against Abu Hamza, with many of the counts stemming from his attempt to set up the Oregon training camp. Abu Hamza is now in custody in Britain, where a trial is scheduled on separate charges filed by the British government.
Aswat and Kassir were not indicted in 2004 along with Abu Hamza.
Under U.S. law, the United States has 60 days to secure a grand jury indictment against Aswat, now that he has been arrested on a provisional warrant.
The Oregon training camp that has been central to this case never got up and running. The housing consisted of cramped, dilapidated travel trailers, and there was a lack of food and other basic supplies, according to sources who were there at the time and later interviewed by The Seattle Times. Both Aswat and Kassir were dismayed by the camp conditions.
After visiting the camp, Aswat spent time in Seattle.
Aswat's arrest came as Attorney General Lord Goldsmith's office said the Crown Prosecution Service's head of anti-terrorism would meet with senior Metropolitan Police officers to discuss possible charges against three prominent clerics as part of a crackdown on those the government believes are inciting terrorism.
Clerics Omar Bakri Mohammed, Abu Izzaden and Abu Uzair have appeared on British television in recent days, and a spokeswoman for Lord Goldsmith's office said prosecutors and police would look at remarks made by the three and consider whether they could face charges of treason, incitement to treason, solicitation of murder or incitement to withhold information known to be of use to police.
Mohammed has reportedly said since the July 7 attacks that he would not inform police if he knew Muslims were planning another attack, and he supports insurgents who attack troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"No decision on charges has been made yet," the attorney general's office spokeswoman said, speaking anonymously because British civil servants are rarely allowed to be quoted by name. The spokeswoman said prosecutors may also seek access to recordings made by an undercover reporter for London's Sunday Times who reportedly recorded members of a radical group praising the suicide bombers as "The Fantastic Four."
The newspaper's story said its reporter spent two months as a "recruit" of the group, the Savior Sect, and described the organization as inciting young British Muslims to become terrorists.
Also yesterday, British police charged two additional suspects in the failed July 21 attacks. Ibrahim Muktar Said, 27, who is accused of trying to detonate a bomb on a bus in east London, and Ramzi Mohammed, suspected of attempting the Oval underground train bombing, were arrested in raids in west London on July 29, police said.
All three July 21 bombing suspects in British police custody have now been charged. A fourth, known both as Osman Hussain and Hamdi Issac, was arrested in Rome and is being held there on international terrorism charges.
The three face charges of conspiracy to commit murder; attempted murder; making or possessing an explosive substance with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury; and conspiracy to use explosives.
Compiled from reports by The Associated Press and Seattle Times reporters Hal Bernton and Mike Carter.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.