Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 24, was convicted in late November on nine counts of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism. Among these were conspiracy to hijack a plane and conspiring to assassinate President George W. Bush.
The case has serious implications in the legal sector of the U.S government’s anti-terror measures, as it provides a precedent that U.S. courts can use evidence obtained by foreign authorities in criminal cases.
Abu Ali, an Arab-American who grew up in Falls Church, Va., was arrested in Saudi Arabia while there as a student.
He was held for nearly two years before he delivered a confession that he had been involved with Al-Qaida. He was then returned to the United States for trial.
The defendant’s attorney Khurrum Wahid said that Abu Ali’s videotaped confession was made only after many hours of torture from the Saudi authorities, during which time he was reportedly chained to the ground, kicked in the stomach and whipped repeatedly over the back. The defense supported these claims with testimony from a physician and a psychiatrist claiming that Abu Ali did show mental and physical evidence of prior torture.
The government countered with a dermatologist that said the opposite, as well as a claim that Abu Ali said “I am very healthy” to his parents during a phone conversation while he was in Saudi custody. The government also showed video testimony from Abu Ali’s Saudi interrogators claiming that Abu Ali confessed as soon as he was shown evidenced obtained from other Al-Qaida members.
Despite the defense’s objections, Judge Gerald Bruce Lee allowed the confession to be used as evidence, which the prosecution used as the basis for their eventual victory.
“It was very telling,” Jury member Nancy Ramsden told the AP of the tape, on which he was seen laughing and imitating the use of an assault rifle while admitting to plotting with Al-Qaida to kill the President.
“It was almost sort of a joke for him.”
“This conviction is the result of extraordinary law enforcement work and international cooperation,” U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty said in a statement. “It serves as a clear warning to all that terrorists can and will be brought to the bar of justice.”
Wahid has said that he plans to appeal the court’s decision, with the admissibility of Abu Ali’s confession tape likely to be a significant issue.
Abu Ali moved to Saudi Arabia in 2002 to study Islam at the Islamic University of Medina. In June of 2003, he was arrested while taking a final exam. The arrest was part of a sweep by Saudi authorities following a bombing in Riyadh that killed 35 people.
It was while he was in Saudi custody that Abu Ali confessed to working with Al-Qaida on numerous plots, including one to assassinate the President either by shooting him on the street or by detonating a car bomb.
A native of Falls Church, Va., Abu Ali could face up to life in prison when he is sentenced at the United States District Court on Feb. 17 of next year.