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Al Qaeda Operative Pleads Guilty to Terror Charges in Illinois

Update: Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison on October 29, 2009.

Posted: May 8, 2009

An Al Qaeda operative entered the U.S. one day before the September 11 terrorist attacks and was held in the U.S. without charges for more than seven years pleaded guilty to attending terrorist training camps and assisting Al Qaeda operations in the U.S.


Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, 43, a dual national of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and legal U.S. resident, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to Al Qaeda on April 30, 2009.  In the plea agreement entered in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Al-Marri admitted that he attended terrorist training camps, stayed in Al Qaeda safehouses in Pakistan and conspired to further the terrorist activity of Al Qaeda in the U.S.


Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind behind the September 11 terrorist attacks, approached Al-Marri in 2001 about assisting Al Qaeda operations in the U.S., according to the plea agreement.  Mohammed instructed Al-Marri to enter the U.S. no later than September 10, 2001, and directed him to meet with suspected September 11th financier Mustafa Al-Hawsawi in Dubai, who provided Al-Marri with $10,000 to purchase material in support of Al Qaeda, including a laptop computer.


Al-Marri and Mohammed communicated through free email accounts and a system of pre-arranged codes, according to the plea agreement.  Al-Marri, referred to as "Abdo" in the emails, kept Mohammed, or "Muk," apprised of his attempt to enter the U.S., his contact information and his efforts to advance Al Qaeda's mission.  To conceal phone numbers, Al-Marri and Mohammed used the "10-code" in which they subtracted the digits in the actual numbers from 10 to arrive at the coded number. 


Other Al Qaeda members, including a number of the September 11th hijackers, used this same code to conceal their phone numbers and avoid detection.  Details of this code were stored in an address book found in an Al Qaeda safehouse in Pakistan, according to the plea agreement.


In an attempt to enter the U.S. on a student visa, Al-Marri enrolled for a second bachelor's degree in computer science at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois and arrived to the country on September 10, 2001.  According to the plea agreement, from September 23, 2001 to November 4, 2001, Al-Marri made a number of unsuccessful attempts to contact Al-Hawsawi and other Al Qaeda operatives by using prepaid calling cards at public pay phones to conceal his communications. 


Al-Marri also conducted online research related to various cyanide compounds and the places they could be purchased in the U.S.  His research used an "anonymizer" program to anonymously search Web sites and regularly erase all historical Internet searches, according to the plea agreement.


Al-Marri was arrested in December 2001 and transferred to the Southern District of New York as a material witness in the investigation of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  He was charged at that time with credit card fraud, making false statements and identity fraud.


These charges were dropped in June 2003 when President Bush designated him as an "enemy combatant."  According to the Bush Administration, designating terrorism suspects as "enemy combatants" allowed the government to detain them indefinitely without charge.  Following the designation, Al-Marri was transferred to the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, where he was detained until criminal charges were brought against him following a review of his case by the Obama Administration. 


Al-Marri was charged on February 26, 2009 with providing and conspiring to provide material support to Al Qaeda.  As part of Al-Marri's plea agreement, the Justice Department agreed to dismiss the second count of the indictment, providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization.


Al-Marri faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a life term of supervised release.

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