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Two Convicted in Detroit Terror Trial

Two Convicted in Detroit Terror Trial

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DETROIT (AP) -- Two of four Arab immigrants were convicted Tuesday of conspiring to support Islamic extremists plotting attacks in the United States and the Middle East. A third was found guilty of a fraud charge, and a fourth was acquitted of all counts.

The case, which began with a raid on a Detroit apartment just six days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was seen as a test of the government's ability to prosecute terrorist "sleeper" cells.

Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, 37, and Karim Koubriti, 24, were found guilty of conspiracy to provide material support or resources to terrorists, and of conspiracy to engage in fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents.

Ahmed Hannan, 34, was acquitted of conspiracy to support terrorism, but was found guilty of conspiracy to engage in fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents.

Koubriti and Hannan were acquitted on two other fraud counts.

Farouk Ali-Haimoud, 22, was acquitted of all charges. He wept after the jury left the courtroom, and his lawyer asked for his release as soon as possible.

Prosecutors alleged the four men worked as a sleeper cell that was part of a shadowy unidentified terrorist group and conspired to help terrorists by raising money and producing false documents.

Defense attorneys said their clients were victims of overzealous federal agents who relied on the lies of an admitted con man to build a flimsy case that didn't add up to terrorism.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino noted that the government said Elmardoudi was the leader of the alleged cell. "This is consistent with the jury's verdict," he said outside the courtroom.

Elmardoudi's attorney, William Swor, said his client was devastated by the verdict, but said he didn't believe the jury accepted the government's argument that the men were part of a terrorist cell. "Even in my client's conviction, there is no support for the government's contention," Swor said.

Elmardoudi can be sentenced to as much as 15 years in prison; Koubriti and Hannan face five years behind bars.

Ali-Haimoud is Algerian and the others are from Morocco. Prosecutors said their plot was hatched before they arrived in the United States in the late 1990s and 2000.

In building their case, prosecutors said a videotape and sketches found in the apartment raid showed potential targets including Las Vegas and Disneyland, and U.S. military installations in Turkey and Jordan. Defense attorneys said the videotape was an innocent travelogue.

Other alleged terror cases, including those of shoe bomber Richard Reid and an alleged cell in Lackawanna, N.Y., ended with guilty pleas. The trial here was closely watched by members of the Bush administration, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was rebuked by the judge for publicly praising a government witness during the two-month trial.

At the heart of the case was material found during the apartment raid on Sept. 17, 2001. Authorities looking for a man on a terrorist watch list found fake documents, airport badges, the videotape the government said showed possible U.S. targets, and a day planner holding what prosecutors said were sketches of an American air base in Turkey and a military hospital in Jordan.

The government suggested the men were radical followers of the Salafist theology, based in part on audio tapes found in the raid. Defense experts said the tapes espouse mainstream Salafi ideology, which focuses on strict adherence to Islamic traditions.

The defense said the day planner once belonged to a now-dead mentally ill man who liked to doodle. They said the video, which includes scenes of Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, was an innocuous travelogue. And while two of the men worked as dishwashers for a catering company near the Detroit airport, the badges didn't give them access to the airport itself.

The prosecution's star witness was Youssef Hmimssa, a self-described scam artist who lived briefly with some of the defendants and whose photo was on fraudulent documents found during the raid.

Hmimssa testified that Elmardoudi told him about the possibility of attacks on the United States one month before the Sept. 11 hijackings.

Hmimssa also described the men as extremists who wanted to support attacks, ship arms to the Middle East and smuggle "brothers" into the country.

Defense attorneys suggested Hmimssa cooked up the terrorism allegations to help himself.

Hmimssa, a Moroccan in the United States illegally, is awaiting sentencing since pleading guilty to fraud-related charges in Michigan, Iowa and Illinois.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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