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Eye On Boise

Archive for May 2004

Role of the First Amendment?

As jurors enjoyed a long weekend, attorneys on both sides in the Sami Al-Hussayen case were back in court Friday, arguing about the instructions that will be given to the jury. Prosecutors were particularly alarmed by proposed instructions from the judge laying out the protections of the First Amendment regarding free speech.

The judge’s proposed instructions noted that speech is protected unless it causes imminent harm. Often, that’s associated with the classic example of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Posting materials on websites, like other types of publishing, is a form of speech.

The proposed instructions said, in part, “Speech may not be penalized just because it makes it more likely that someone will be harmed in the future.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Lindquist said, “The court made it very clear that sure, speech was going to be an issue, absolutely, but it never rose to this level.” He said he was “terribly concerned” that the instructions may tell jurors the government has to prove something it didn’t address in its case – imminent harm.

The government has focused instead on the material support to terrorism statute, which requires it to prove that the defendant provided support while either knowing or intending that it would help terrorists with recruitment or fundraising.

Defense attorneys have proposed even farther-reaching free-speech instructions.

“The alleged proof of the involvement in conspiracies is entirely circumstantial,” lead defense attorney David Nevin told the court. “They are inferring the existence of the conspiracy from … the publication of various materials, from protected acts under the First Amendment.”

Lindquist responded, “You have to go to content in order to show knowledge or intent. … Of course you have to go into the content.”

The judge reserved his ruling on the issue, and likely will decide over the weekend. The jurors will receive their instructions on Tuesday, and then hear closing arguments in the case. The instructions are key, because they outline for the jurors the questions that they have to answer in deciding guilt or innocence.

Defense rests

After just one witness and a single day of testimony, the defense in the Sami Al-Hussayen trial has just announced that it rests its case.

“I’m caught short,” responded Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Lindquist. “I’m taken by surprise by this announcement.”

The court’s in recess now, to decide how to proceed. Still to come are any possible rebuttal testimony, jury instructions, and closing arguments. Judge Edward Lodge said he doesn’t want the jury deliberations to be interrupted by the upcoming holiday weekend, so it’s they’re unlikely to start before Tuesday.

Personal relationship

Recruiting people to commit a terrorist act or to spy for another country takes a personal relationship with an appealing, persuasive recruiter, defense expert witness Frank Anderson told the court today. He testified that he personally recruited members of terrorist groups to spy for the U.S. government during his years with the CIA, and drew parallels between that process and the process terrorists use to pull in their own recruits. In both cases, the recruiter must persuade the person to do something they would not be naturally inclined to do, he said - become a traitor to their own country or commit an act of violence against innocents, possibly including women and children.

Under cross-examination by prosecutor David Deitch, Anderson said he personally recruited terrorists to spy or become informants on three occasions, and supervised similar operations on many others. But he said he couldn’t give the details of each specific event, including names and locations, because that information is classified, though Deitch repeatedly asked for those specifics.

Anderson also acknowledged that his work at the CIA, which he left in 1995, didn’t involve use of the Internet. He said since then, he’s used the Internet extensively as part of his three businesses, which in part involve evaluating terrorist threats for companies considering locating or expanding overseas.

First volunteer expert

Frank Anderson, terrorism expert and former CIA agent in such locations as Lebanon, Yemen and Morocco, is the first of the expert witnesses in the Sami Al-Hussayen trial who isn’t being highly paid. In fact, Anderson told the court today that he’s volunteering his time in the case, being reimbursed only for his airfare and hotel.

Asked why, he said, “I lived for almost 13 years in countries where you could be put in jail for what you write or say. I do not want -“

At that point, he was interrupted by an objection from the prosecution, which the judge sustained. The remark was stricken from the record.

Testifying by video

Two of Sami Al-Hussayen’s brothers will be allowed to testify in his trial by videoconference, Judge Edward Lodge ruled this morning. Prosecutors opposed allowing that, but defense attorney David Nevin argued, “Both these men have applied for visas to come to the United States and give their testimony live, but the government has refused.”

Lodge said, “The obvious preference, of course, is to have live testimony, but in this case … they were denied visas. Obviously, that would be a compelling circumstance.”

The defense, which is just beginning to present its abbreviated case, also indicated it will call terrorism expert Frank Anderson, and Al-Hussayen’s doctoral adviser, retired University of Idaho computer science professor John Dickinson.

Lodge said Dickinson may testify, but not as an expert witness. Nevin said he wants the professor’s testimony to refute a claim made by the prosecution in its opening statement that Al-Hussayen’s doctoral studies in computer science were “fictitious.”

Not a good start

The defense’s case got off to a rough start this morning, as an angry Judge Edward Lodge refused to allow the first witness to testify and blocked key defense exhibits - evidence that after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks Sami Al-Hussayen organized a blood drive for the victims, condemned the attacks and spoke out strongly against them on behalf of Moscow, Idaho’s Muslim community.

“Statements made by him are hearsay - he is available as a witness,” Lodge said. “It is his choice whether he chooses to testify or not.”

Angry prosecutors had demanded the move, still seething over yesterday’s cross-examination of one of their star witnesses, a terrorist recruit who had testified that viewing web sites and videos prompted him, in part, to take up arms. On cross-examination, the recruit, Khaja Hasan, acknowledged that the Sept. 11 attacks and a trusted cleric’s urging were what really prompted him to turn to violence. Both sides had agreed before the trial to stay away from mentioning Sept. 11 and Osama bin Laden, because both say Al-Hussayen had nothing to do with those attacks.

The judge also blocked Al-Hussayen’s doctoral adviser, retired University of Idaho professor John Dickinson, from testifying until the defense submits an expert witness report to the prosecutors. The judge expressed anger about complaints from both sides throughout the trial about notice and paperwork.

“It just seems like this whole trial has been proceeding that way - keep the court in the dark, see if the court makes a mistake, and then take advantage of it,” the judge fumed.

Changed his story

Terrorist recruit Khwaja Hasan changed his story somewhat when he testified in front of the jury this afternoon - this time, he said directly that viewing a web site about the Chechnyan conflict and watching the graphic video “Russian Hell 2000” more than a year beforehand were part of the reason he went to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.

“Were the Qoqaz news reports and the video of Russian Hell 2000 part of the reason that you went to the … camp?” prosecutor David Deitch asked Hasan. “Yes,” Hasan replied.

However, on cross-examination, Hasan repeated that he went to the camp at the urging of a trusted Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ali Al-Timimi, at a meeting shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “What happened in September, the meeting, was the final part of me deciding to go,” he said.

“It was your personal relationship with the cleric, your personal relationship with a very, very persuasive man, yes?” asked defense attorney David Nevin. “I would say that, yes,” Hasan replied.

The 28-year-old Virginia man also acknowledged that he hopes for a reduction in his 11-year, three-month prison sentence in exchange for his testimony against Sami Omar Al-Hussayen. Al-Hussayen is charged with aiding terrorists, in part by operating and maintaining various Islamic web sites.

Should they, or shouldn’t they?

Attorneys on both sides offered impassioned arguments to the judge Friday morning on whether two young recruits to the al-Qaeda terrorist network should be allowed to testify against Sami Al-Hussayen, a University of Idaho graduate student who is accused of aiding terrorists, in part by operating web sites. So far, they’ve testified only outside the jury’s presence.

“There is absolutely huge potential for confusion of the issue and for prejudice here,” argued David Nevin, defense attorney for Al-Hussayen. “These witnesses are not alleged to have had access to a single thing that Mr. Al-Hussayen wrote or said or thought. They are not alleged to have had access to a single thing that existed on Mr. Al-Hussayen’s computer and was uploaded to any site. The only connection is by association.”

Prosecutors contend that one web site Al-Hussayen helped operate touted another site, which has been described as the official site of the Chechen rebels, as the most reliable source for news about the Chechen conflict. They also note that the Chechen site,, had links to videos of battle scenes from Bosnia and elsewhere that were posted on, a site connected to the Islamic Assembly of North America, for which Al-Hussayen helped maintain web sites.

One of the recruits, Yahya Goba of Lackawanna, N.Y., said he watched the battle videos on about 10 times after returning from an al-Qaeda training camp. The other, Khwaja Hasan of Virginia, said he watched the graphic movie “Russian Hell 2000” on sometime in 2000. But both said that while the movies were “inspiring,” respected friends who enticed them with religious arguments were what persuaded them to go train with terrorists. Hasan headed to Pakistan for training just days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, with the intention of fighting against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Goba trained at the al-Farooq camp near Kandahar in the spring of 2001, serving guard duty and training in weapons, tactics and explosives.

Lead prosecutor Kim Lindquist argued that the two terrorist recruits prove the points government experts have been making in their testimony – that Islamic web sites like those Al-Hussayen helped operate recruit people and raise funds for terrorism.

The government should be able “to have these witnesses testify directly, vividly and powerfully that that was the effect these materials have,” Lindquist argued. “These witnesses are living, breathing proof.”

The judge will decide on Monday. He suggested that the two witnesses may be more appropriate for the “rebuttal” phase of the trial, after the defense has offered its case. The two are the last major witnesses prosecutors plan to present, so depending on the judge’s ruling, the defense could begin presenting its case on Monday.

Recruited by al Qaeda

Dressed in bright orange-yellow jail-issue scrubs, Yahya Goba gave short answers and took long pauses as he told the court about how he went to an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, at the urging of a friend and mentor from Lackawanna, N.Y., who’s now dead.

“I looked up to him a lot,” Goba said of Kamal Derwish, a U.S. citizen and al Qaeda recruiter who later died in a U.S. missile strike in Yemen.

Goba said he looked at web sites and videos after he returned from the training camp, and was shown some videotapes by another recruiter, Juma Al-Dosari, before he left New York for the training. “They were inspiring,” he said of the videos, but they weren’t what got him to go to the camp.

“The main recruiting was done by Derwish,” Goba told the court.

The heavy-set, bearded young man then left the witness stand, and Khwaja Hasan, a Virginia man who, like Goba, is serving more than a decade in prison on terrorism-related charges, was led in.

Hasan said he had looked at Internet sites about Muslim fighters in Chechnya and elsewhere, and recounted with some gusto watching the movie “Russian Hell 2000” that included a graphic scene in which a Chechen commander shoots an injured Russian soldier dead “with an AK.” But he said he never considered going overseas to fight until a dinner at a friend’s house in Fairfax, Va. four days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

There, Ali Al-Tamimi, a man whose religious knowledge he respected, told him Taliban leader Mullah Omar had called for all Muslims to come to the defense of Afghanistan against American forces, and that it was his obligation to go and fight jihad, Hasan said. He agreed to go, and just five days later left the United States for Pakistan, where he trained for three and a half weeks at the Lashkar E Taiba training camp. But after the training, he lost the heart for the fight, and instead of going to Afghanistan, he returned to the United States.

Both young men are serving time under plea agreements that require them to cooperate in other cases, like Sami Al-Hussayen’s trial on charges of supporting terrorism. Prosecutors contend they are examples of how Al-Hussayen’s work on Islamic web sites helped terrorists draw recruits. Hasan was sentenced to 11 years and three months in prison for conspiracy, and for discharging a firearm in relation to the conspiracy. Goba is serving 10 years for providing material support and resources to al Qaeda, a designated terrorist organization.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge plans to hear more arguments from attorneys in a rare Friday-morning court session tomorrow, then decide on Monday morning whether to allow the jury to hear from the two young men. Jurors were excused for the weekend Thursday afternoon before the two men came in - and they couldn’t hide their grins as they left early.

‘They will want to go do this’

Rohan Gunaratna, the prosecution’s second expert witness on terrorism, testified this morning that he agrees with earlier expert Reuven Paz that materials posted on web sites linked to Sami Al-Hussayen are the kind that drum up recruits and funds for terrorists.

“The material, when viewed by someone, they will be emotionally affected, they will want to go do this,” Gunaratna told the court. “And also they will want to give some contribution, some funds.”

Gunaratna, the author of “Inside Al Qaeda, Global Network of Terror,” testified for only about an hour. Next up are two witnesses who are expected to testify that they were inspired to take up arms overseas by viewing videos on web sites - if the judge allows them to testify. He should rule on that question shortly.

Expert cross-examined

Here are some of the points brought out in defense attorney Chuck Peterson’s cross-examination of Israeli terrorism expert Reuven Paz:

* Paz has posted some of the same materials prosecutors have linked to Al-Hussayen on his own web site. He said he posts extremist materials for use by researchers - not to advocate their content. The materials include extremist Sheikh Safar Alhawali’s hate-filled lecture “The Intifada and the New Tartars,” which is now published as a book, and flashing pictures of graphic war scenes downloaded from an Islamist web site.

* Paz acknowledged that the question of the appropriateness of suicide attacks is in wide debate in the Middle East.

* Under questioning from Peterson, Paz acknowledged that he has been critical of some Israeli government policies regarding Palestinians, including the assassination of a Hamas leader.

Looking to roots

Israeli researcher and terrorism expert Reuven Paz reached back more than 1,000 years to explain the roots of modern-day Islamist terrorism, in his testimony today. From the Crusades to the Mongols, he detailed how major Islamic teachers offered new interpretations of religious teachings and views of the world that have again become popular today.

As the trial broke for lunch, Judge Edward Lodge noted that the information is interesting and likely helpful to the jury in its understanding - but said he’d like things to speed up. The trial, now mid-way through its sixth week, was only supposed to last six to eight weeks in total - and the government is still presenting its case. Still to come is the defense’s entire case.

‘For the fifth time…’

Cross-examination of FBI intelligence analyst John Pulcastro by lead defense attorney David Nevin ended dramatically this afternoon, as Nevin honed in on a statement at the bottom of several web pages Pulcastro had described - which appeared to show that the sites were still being operated by their former owner, Rayyan Media of Quebec, Canada, rather than the Islamic Assembly of North America. Nearly all the evidence introduced today came from two sub-sites of the web site, and But links to those sub-sites disappeared from before IANA took the site over, Nevin pointed out.

That suggests the defendant, Sami Al-Hussayen, never had any connection to those sub-sites, which include such key evidence as a link to a site for Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization. That link is cited in the charges against Al-Hussayen for aiding terrorists.

Under questioning, Pulcastro refused to answer Nevin’s question about whether there had been any link to those two sub-sites on after May of 2000. Instead, Pulcastro repeatedly insisted that the sites still existed, if you knew how to find them directly without links.

After Nevin had the court reporter re-read the question and several objections from the prosecution were overruled, Nevin asked Pulcastro, “For the fifth time, is there a link?”

“I can’t tell you that, sir,” Pulcastro responded. “What I can tell you is that these sites still existed.”

Nevin’s cross-examination of Pulcastro will wrap up in the morning.

Most are admitted

So far today, about a dozen exhibits related indirectly to Sami Al-Hussayen have been admitted as evidence, two have been blocked, and a half-dozen have been put on hold. Most of the exhibits are web sites with information about fighting in Chechnya or treatises on how the authors believe the cause for Muslim fighters there and in Palestine is justified.

Judge Edward Lodge put off a decision on whether to allow another half-dozen exhibits that include pages from a web site characterized as the official site of the Chechen rebels, and a series of videos about fighting in Chechnya and Bosnia. None had ties to Al-Hussayen, but prosecutors argued that the Chechen rebel web site,, had links to the videos on, a site acquired within the past few years by the Islamic Assembly of North America and which Al-Hussayen has helped maintain.

Defense attorney David Nevin objected to the evidence, saying, “These are not materials that he posted, they are not materials that he had anything to do with the creation of.”

Case already proven?

In legal briefs filed today, prosecutors contend they’ve already proven that University of Idaho graduate student Sami Al-Hussayen was part of a conspiracy to aid terrorists - an argument bitterly disputed by the defense in its own brief.

Prosecutors cited four fatwas offering religious justifications for suicide attacks and an incendiary speech about the Palestinian intifada as proof of the conspiracy. “These materials, and others like them, appeal to religious devotion and emotion as a way to persuade an audience that it should participate physically or by sending money, and several make those specific suggestions,” the prosectuion brief argues. The prosecution has offered evidence suggesting Al-Hussayen played a role in posting the fatwas, written by four different Islamic clerics, on the Internet and facilitating an Internet broadcast of the lecture, which was by an extremist Saudi sheikh.

Though Al-Hussayen is the only one charged, the government’s brief says, “The conspiracy as it existed among the defendant, the IANA and its employees has been established.”

The IANA is the Islamic Assembly of North America, a religious outreach group for which Al-Hussayen admits doing extensive volunteer work, including operating and maintaining web sites.

The defense, in its brief, argued that the fatwas and the lecture show only that speech was broadcast, which is protected by the First Amendment. “There is no evidence indicating that Mr. Al-Hussayen or IANA entered an agreement to accomplish an illegal objective with anyone, let alone each other,” the defense brief said. It added, “The government equates association with conspiracy.”

All the way to Boise

The next witnesses the prosecution will present in Sami Al-Hussayen’s terrorism trial are coming from afar. Terrorism expert Reuven Paz came all the way from Israel to testify, possibly on Monday. A second terrorism expert, who will be in Boise on Sunday to prepare to testify next week, is coming in from Singapore.

For now, the trial is on its weekend break until Monday.

Katz can testify

Author Rita Katz can testify about links between various web sites, but her testimony can’t be the basis for introducing any exhibits about those sites into evidence, Judge Edward Lodge has ruled.

Katz originally had been proposed as an expert witness, but instead is testifying merely as a fact witness. That means she can’t give opinions or conclusions on any legal issues, and can only talk about what she’s seen. She’s assisted with the Sami Al-Hussayen investigation as a paid consultant to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

First fatwa

The first fatwa to be described in front of the jury is one from Sheikh Salman Al-Awdah entitled, “Martyrdom Operations.” It outlines various conditions related to religious law cited by other Islamic scholars, then says, “Based on these conditions, these operations can be carried out against the Jews in Palestine and the Russians in Chechnya.” Later in the document, it says, “Whoever carries out these operations according to these legal conditions is by Allah’s will a martyr.”

The others that will follow contain some more explicit language, including one that describes Jews as “the brothers of monkeys and pigs” and advocates suicide attacks “to crush the Jews, the Christians and the polytheists.”

Defense attorneys have objected that the exhibits are being used merely to prejudice the jury against the defendant, who they say disagrees with the inflammatory treatises.

Impassioned arguments

Impassioned arguments filled the courtroom this morning, as both sides argued whether four fatwas, or fatawa - plural of fatwa - should be shown to the jury. The four offer religious justifications for suicide attacks, particularly against Jews. They were posted in the spring of 2001 on a web site connected to the defendant, Sami Al-Hussayen.

“It would be natural, your honor, if the defendant did not agree with these statements, for him to do something to demonstrate that he didn’t agree,” federal prosecutor David Deitch told the judge. “But what does he do? He passes it along to millions of people.”

Lead defense attorney David Nevin again called the prosecution’s approach an “assault on the First Amendment.”

The judge will announce his decision shortly.

Not all his

Large numbers of the files on the computer seized from Sami Al-Hussayen’s apartment weren’t his - suggesting the computer was used by others, too, and may not always have been at Al-Hussayen’s Moscow home.

That information, brought out in cross-examination by defense attorneys this morning, followed earlier testimony that the computer contains articles about suicide attacks and records of thousands of financial transactions.

Lead defense attorney David Nevin, cross-examining government computer expert Curtis Rose, pointed to a document found in the computer that appeared to be a letter from another person about child support and parenting issues regarding that person’s son, Jalani Kidd. Al-Hussayen is married with three sons, Muhanned, Tameem and Ziad Al-Hussayen, but no children named Jalani Kidd.

The “Jalani” file was part of a long list of files in a category within the computer hard drive named “Al-Ked.” Among the many file names flashed on a large courtroom screen in that Al-Ked list were files entitled “fatwa” and “jihad images.”

Computer tells story

Sami Al-Hussayen’s home computer was used for “web site testing, development, maintenance and publication of content to several Internet sites,” a prosecution computer expert testified today, as well as for thousands of online financial transactions involving donations.

According to computer forensic expert Curtis Rose’s report, the home computer’s user “owned or was a point of contact for at least 15 Internet domain names.” Plus, the report said, “This system was utilized to produce and publish several significant files to Internet web sites. The content included information concerning suicide operations.”

The computer, seized from the University of Idaho graduate student’s apartment in Moscow, holds millions of pages of data, and prosecutors are attempting to show its content links Al-Hussayen to fatwas justifying suicide attacks and other materials posted on the Internet, as part of an online campaign that they say helped terrorists raise funds and recruits. Al-Hussayen has maintained his innocence, saying he merely volunteered and lent his computer expertise to legitimate Islamic religious outreach groups.

‘Assault on the First Amendment’

Voices were raised in the courtroom this afternoon, as lead prosecutor Kim Lindquist heatedly objected to the idea that his characterization of Sami Al-Hussayen’s postings to a Yahoo email group about Chechnya are an “assault on the First Amendment.”

Judge Edward Lodge said, “As I understand it, it’s a cut-and-paste. He’s taking an article that’s newsworthy, and passing it along.”

Lindquist responded, “It’s ‘newsworthy’ in the sense of fundraising and recruiting. … This is how you get people to go fight in Chechnya.” He added, “This sort of ‘news’ is specifically purposed for recruitment and fighting of jihad!”

Lead defense attorney David Nevin responded, “Your honor, this is an assault on the First Amendment, plain and simple.” He said such postings are how the genocide in Kosovo came to light: “Human rights organizations and people just like Sami Al-Hussayen screamed about it all over the world, and NATO stepped in.”

He added, “He is passing along what other people have written. … You can say it inspires people to volunteer, it inspires people to fundraise. Well, the truth does that.”

‘Kill, and conquer again and kill

Over defense objections, prosecutors introduced a slew of postings to a Yahoo email group about Chechnya today, each posted to the group by Sami Al-Hussayen, who’s being tried on charges of providing material support to terrorism.

Most appear to be news reports highly sympathetic to the Muslim fighters in Chechnya, reporting everything from a successful ambush against Russian forces to atrocities allegedly committed against Chechen civilians by the Russians.

But prosecutors dwelled on one posting that appeared to be a religious treatise entitled “The Virtue of Jihad.” In it, various sages recount ancient conversations with the Prophet Muhammed, teachings about jihad - which the two sides in the case translate variously as “struggle” and “holy war” - and quotes from the Koran.

At one point in the text, Abu Hurairah is quoted as teaching, “By the breath of Muhammad in my hand, I love to conquer in the way of Allah and kill, and conquer again and kill, and conquer again and be killed.”

Prosecutors highlighted that phrase and similar ones in bright yellow on a giant computer screen for jurors, and referred to it repeatedly as “the defendant’s message.”

Try, try again

Prosecutors tried for a third time today to get the judge to let them show the jury evidence that Sami Al-Hussayen was a designated “moderator” of a Yahoo email group about Chechnya. He was one of an undetermined number of moderators, but only ever deleted one posting to the group.

Prosecutor David Deitch told the judge he should be able to show the jury emails that were sent to all moderators. “That has independent value, to show that the defendant knew or had reason to know that he was a moderator,” Deitch said. “He had the ability to delete any email.”

Defense attorney David Nevin repeated his earlier argument: He’s a member of a number of defense attorneys’ email groups, and often there are postings he disagrees with. “People post things all the time that I disagree with or that I find far-fetched or that don’t interest me,” Nevin said, but nothing requires him to actively disavow each one to show he doesn’t agree. “That’s not how intention is manifest, nor how the law works.”

The judge stuck with his previous ruling on the moderator issue, saying such an approach would “cause the jury to speculate as to whether the defendant actually looked at these postings.”

But he did OK evidence of postings Al-Hussayen himself made to the group, called Qoqaz, and prosecutors began presenting those this morning. Most are news of the war in Chechnya, cast in favorable terms for the Muslim fighters and against the Russians. One rips Russian President Vladimir Putin as “that loser,” and says that he “declares war on Allah, and that is the beginning of his end, Allah willing.”

The defense has characterized Al-Hussayen’s postings as cut-and-paste clippings, from various sources, of news from Chechnya.

Wait a minute

Earlier in the trial, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge had ruled in the strongest of terms that he wouldn’t allow evidence against Sami Al-Hussayen in the form of thousands of postings to a Yahoo email group about Chechnya that came from others, just because Al-Hussayen had the title of “moderator” for the group. A Yahoo representative testified to the court that hundreds of people could have shared that moderator title.

Yet, just after the defense finished cross-examining the prosecution’s lead witness this afternoon, the prosecution attempted to have its next witness, FBI Special Agent Michael Gneckow, testify about an unsolicited, blank email apparently sent to Al-Hussayen as a moderator of the group, in an effort to show his connection to the group.

The defense objected, and the judge blocked the exhibit, but Deitch already had described it in front of the jury.

The court then adjourned for the weekend. When the trial starts again at 9 a.m. Monday, prosecutors plan to present email postings that Al-Hussayen sent to the Yahoo group, including news clippings about events in Chechnya.

Who was in control?

As lead defense attorney David Nevin continues his cross-examination of key prosecution witness John Pulcastro this afternoon, Nevin has focused for the past hour on questioning the FBI analyst’s contention that Sami Al-Hussayen controlled an array of Islamic web sites. He pointed to numerous instances in the prosecution’s own evidence, mainly intercepted email and telephone conversations, in which Al-Hussayen complained about how the sites were being operated, and about people posting inappropriate items on them without any approval from the Islamic Assembly of North America.

In one case, an email showed Al-Hussayen suggesting to the manager of the site that he subscribe to a British daily news report about Palestine, Al Quds. “If you see fit to subscribe to it, this will strengthen the news section of the site,” Al-Hussayen wrote in the intercepted email.

“It’s not an order, is it?” Nevin asked Pulcastro. He responded, “No, sir, it is not. There are many things involved in a web site. You cannot control every single thing.”

But Pulcastro maintained that Al-Hussayen was in charge of the sites because his name is found on domain registration and similar records stretching back several years.

Now for the other side

The government still is presenting its side of the case against Sami Al-Hussayen, but the testimony of the government’s main witness, FBI intelligence analyst John Pulcastro, just finished. That means the cross-examination of Pulcastro by the defense will start, which could be extensive. Pulcastro has testified for all or parts of half a dozen days, on everything from dry details of web site registration records to intercepted telephone conversations and emails, to extremist material on the Internet that the government alleges has ties to Al-Hussayen.

Same thing?

A government witness, Mohammed Aleem, did everything Sami Al-Hussayen is accused of doing and more, defense attorneys complained in court on Wednesday. Al-Hussayen is accused of aiding terrorists by helping maintain various Islamic web sites, in what authorities call an Internet-based campaign to raise funds and recruits for terrorism.

Aleem was flown in from Los Angeles to testify about web domain registrations tied to Al-Hussayen. That’s one of the services his company offers. But the firm, Tjara Networks, also publishes the “Islamicity” web site. Lead defense attorney David Nevin said Islamicity includes postings of anti-American views, posts in support of the Taliban, articles characterizing America as the real terrorist, and more. It also has online radio broadcasts, news items, and religious outreach, much like Islamic Assembly of North America sites associated with Al-Hussayen. Yet, Nevin said, “He is here as a government witness, sponsored by the government, as opposed to here as a defendant.”

Judge Edward Lodge overruled Nevin’s objection, but agreed that Nevin can call Aleem back to the stand later as a defense witness and bring out that point.

Harrowing rhetoric

Jurors endured an hour of harrowing, bloodthirsty rhetoric about killing Jews and destroying Israel in a lecture by an extremist Saudi sheikh, read in part to the court today by an FBI intelligence analyst.

The lecture, by Sheikh Safar Al-Hawali, propounded a theory that Christians and Jews, and particularly the United States, are trying to take over the Middle East by giving Israel sovereignty over the whole region, and that the only answer is to destroy Israel. It praised Palestinian fighters, especially suicide bombers, and bragged of such victories as a “mujahid” who killed 10 people, seven soldiers and three settlers, at a checkpoint in Israel, then returned home for a calm and peaceful dinner with his family.

“Your brothers in the blessed occupied land have changed from oppression to resistance,” Al-Hawali said in the lecture. “This last Ramadan, the number of dead Jews is closer to the number of our dead Palestinian brothers. … This is a huge improvement.”

Hatred of Jews and Israel oozed throughout the Saudi sheikh’s lecture, which proclaimed that it’s time to “fight and … to expel this hated country that consists of those unclean, defiled, the cursed.”

Al-Hussayen helped set up a live Internet broadcast of the lecture, which prosecutors say shows he provided support to terrorists. Defense attorneys say the lecture doesn’t represent his views - and that the First Amendment allows people to express opinions, even reprehensible ones like Al-Hawali’s.

Right-hand man?

In arguments to the judge this morning, prosecutors charged that Sami Al-Hussayen is Saudi Sheikh Safar Al-Hawali’s “right-hand man as far as web site maintenance and web site matters,” a contention the defense quickly termed “ridiculous.”

Lead defense attorney David Nevin said Al-Hawali recently was asked about Al-Hussayen in an interview in Saudi Arabia, and he said he’d never heard of him. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Lindquist responded, “Imagine a co-conspirator distancing himself from a co-conspirator who has been arrested in America.”

Evidence presented in court thus far has shown communication between Al-Hussayen and another Saudi cleric, Sheikh Salman Al-Awdah, but not Al-Hawali. Al-Hawali is the cleric who gave a searing speech about the Palestinian intifada that the prosecution plans to present today as evidence against Al-Hussayen on terrorism charges, because the Moscow computer whiz helped set up a live Internet broadcast of the speech through an Islamic web site.

One by one

No word from the judge yet. Instead, the prosecution has gone back to introducing, one by one, fairly innocuous exhibits, most involving lengthy intercepted phone conversations and emails between Sami Al-Hussayen and others about technical, management and staffing problems involving various web sites.

The day has also featured numerous exhibits showing Al-Hussayen paid credit card bills for web site registration for numerous Islamic sites. Then, in an intercepted, translated email from October of 2002 introduced into evidence this afternoon, Al-Hussayen wrote, “I am in religious turmoil, and I am concerned about paying the credit card bills every month. I am depriving my children and myself from all our needs,” adding that he had had to take out loans.

Free speech or terrorism?

In explosive arguments in court this morning, prosecutors charged that Sami Al-Hussayen schemed to help broadcast an incendiary speech on the Palestinian Intifada by controversial Saudi Sheikh Safar Al-Hawali on the Internet, thereby proving that he was helping terrorists with recruitment and fundraising. They said they have intercepted messages in which Al-Hussayen sought to set up the broadcast in a way that would make it unconnected to the Islamic Assembly of North America.

“The evidence shows how he deceitfully facilitated the broadcast of this particular lecture, knowing that it was forbidden, sensitive,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Lindquist told the court. “This evidence shows compellingly and firmly that the defendant did believe in this despicable stuff, he had his hands on this despicable stuff. … He had knowledge of it and he intended it.”

Lindquist said the lecture - which he wants admitted as evidence - “goes to the very heart of what the defendant is being charged with.”

Defense attorney David Nevin responded that Al-Hussayen’s role in broadcasting the controversial lecture is no different than CNN’s broadcast of an interview with Osama bin Laden.

“This is not about recruitment and funding. This is the government saying, ‘You may not say these things,’ ” Nevin told the court. “You’re a terrorist if you express these views. You’re a terrorist if you help somebody else express these views.”

The First Amendment doesn’t allow that, Nevin argued. “They want to say, ‘Here’s what the defendant thinks, so convict him, because these are bad thoughts.’ “

The judge reserved his ruling on whether to allow the lecture as evidence. Prosecutors want to introduce it to the jury this afternoon.

Don’t ask, don’t tell?

Here’s an odd one: Federal attorneys don’t want Sami Al-Hussayen’s defense lawyers to ask government witnesses if they’ve been arrested for terrorism.

The question comes after the defense has pointed out that government witnesses, such as the head of the Internet Archive service, have posted and made publicly available past versions of the same web sites that Al-Hussayen is accused of helping maintain, thereby fostering fundraising and recruitment for terrorism.

“Defense counsel knows very well that none of the government’s witnesses have been arrested for terrorism crimes,” attorney Todd Hinnen told the court this morning. He said defense lawyers were just trying to “blur the lines” and confuse the jury.

Responded defense attorney David Nevin, “Nobody’s ever been charged in the way that Mr. Al-Hussayen’s been charged here. … It … bears on what really the law is about, and what has to be proved.”

The judge took the request under advisement.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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