charged in effort to help al-Qaida
October 5, 2002
WASHINGTON - Six people,
five of them Americans and all with roots in Oregon,
have been charged with conspiring to wage war
against the United States, Attorney General John
Ashcroft announced yesterday.
The five men allegedly tried to enter Afghanistan
after the Sept. 11 attacks to fight alongside
al-Qaida and Taliban forces.
Ashcroft told an afternoon news conference that
federal agents took two men and a woman into custody
yesterday morning in Portland, Ore., and arrested a
third man in Detroit. Two more men remain at large
overseas. Officials refused to discuss their
Ashcroft hailed yesterday as "a day of justice
for the citizens, the soldiers and law enforcement
officers who defend our nation and our values, and
defend them each and every day." With the
arrests, he said, federal authorities had
"neutralized a suspected terrorist cell within
The indictment does not accuse those charged with
plotting attacks against Americans, either
domestically or abroad. Ashcroft declined to answer
when asked if authorities had evidence that the
group may have been planning such attacks.
Rather, the five men - Jeffrey Leon Battle, 32;
Patrice Lumumba Ford, 31; Habis Abdulla al Saoub,
37; and brothers Ahmed Ibrahim Bilal, 24, and
Muhammad Ibrahim Bilal, 22 - are accused of trying
to aid and join al-Qaida and the Taliban last fall
in their fight against American-led military forces.
Battle's former wife, October Martinique Lewis, 25,
is charged with wiring money to him to help him get
Saoub and Ahmed Bilal are the men at large.
The latest indictment charges the six people with
conspiring to wage war against the United States,
conspiring at provide material support and resources
to al-Qaida and conspiring to contribute services to
al-Qaida and the Taliban. All but Lewis and Muhammad
Bilal were charged with possessing firearms in
furtherance of crimes of violence. Justice officials
said all six could face up to life in prison.
The news conference had a celebratory feel as
Ashcroft shook hands with FBI Director Robert S.
Mueller III and other associates at the podium. He
called the case "a textbook example" of
cooperation among federal, state and local law
The arrests came on a day when John Walker Lindh was
sentenced to 20 years in prison for serving with the
Taliban in Afghanistan. And Richard Reid pleaded
guilty in Boston to trying to ignite explosives
hidden in his shoes while aboard an trans-Atlantic
flight in December.
Taken together, Ashcroft said, these developments
made yesterday "a defining day in America's war
against terrorism" and "a day of
vindication for the nation and President Bush."
The indictment portrays the five men as having been
inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks to seek weapons
training and attempting to find a way into
From last October to February they scattered,
landing in places such as China and Bangladesh.
During that time Lewis, in Oregon, transferred money
to Battle by wire, according the indictment.
Last December, Lewis wrote an e-mail to her
ex-husband in Bangladesh, telling him that "the
U.S. captured three Americans out there trying to
fight on you know who side." Battle, apparently
undeterred, received $300 from Lewis by Western
Union nine days later, to continue his efforts to
make it to Afghanistan, according to the court
Officials said that none of the four people arrested
yesterday - Battle, Ford, Muhammad Bilal and Lewis -
ever reached Afghanistan, but were being charged for
trying. Officials would not say whether they had
evidence that the two men at large, Ahmed Bilal or
Saoub, made it to Afghanistan or took up arms with
the Taliban or al-Qaida.
The indictment focuses on the spending habits of the
group and the efforts by some to obtain weapons
The lone non-citizen charged, al-Saoub, is Jordanian
and was in the United States legally as a permanent
alien. Battle, according to court documents, was
administratively discharged in January of this year
from the U.S. Army Reserve - "in which he had
previously enlisted in order to receive training in
United States military tactics and weapons, which he
ultimately intended to use against the United
Muhammad Bilal was held without bail after a court
appearance in Detroit yesterday. Prosecutor Barbara
McQuade said he had recently traveled to China and
Ford pleaded innocent to all charges during an
arraignment in federal court in Portland, Ore.
Arraignments of Lewis and Battle were postponed
"It's all a mistake, it's got to be," said
Ford's father, Kent Ford. He said his son spent time
as a foreign exchange student in Beijing in the
mid-1990s, when he converted to Islam. Ford, whose
father said he is named after the African resistance
leader and first president of Congo, attended a
graduate program in Nanjing, China, four years ago
run in part by the Johns Hopkins University, a
Hopkins spokesman said last night.
Yesterday's indictment follows arrests near Buffalo,
N.Y., last month of five people accused of aiding
terrorists. That group was portrayed as an al-Qaida
cell operating within U.S. borders, and officials
said they had reason to believe the group could have
been awaiting orders to carry out terrorist acts on
Justice officials credited the sheriff's department
in Skamania County, Wash., for the latest arrests.
Last Sunday, Deputy Sheriff Mark Mercer came across
four of those charged - as well as a man named
Khaled Ali Steitiye - at a gravel pit in Washougal,
Wash., where they were firing weapons, including
semiautomatic pistols and a Chinese-made SKS assault
rifle, according to the indictment.
Steitiye was later arrested on firearms charges in a
case with possible terrorist links, and Mercer saw
Steitiye's face on television and recognized him.
The sheriff's office alerted the FBI, a tip that
helped federal agents with the investigation that
led to yesterday's arrest, officials said.
According to the indictment, three defendants - Ford
and the Bilal brothers - were already engaging
"in physical training to prepare to fight a
jihad" in the summer of 2001 - well before the
attacks on New York and Washington.
In Portland yesterday, members of the Muslim
community expressed anger at the arrests. "It
seems like part of the witch hunt from the
FBI," said Alaa Abunijem, president of the
local Islamic Center. "The Muslim community in
general is being targeted. People in general feel
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