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News >  Idaho

Computer entered as evidence in trial

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE — Sami Al-Hussayen’s home computer was used to test, develop and maintain Web sites and to “produce and publish” articles on the Internet about suicide attacks, a government computer expert testified Tuesday.

The computer, seized from the University of Idaho graduate student’s Moscow, Idaho, apartment, also was involved in thousands of online financial transactions, many of them involving donations to Islamic groups, Curtis W. Rose, director of investigations and forensics for SYTEX Inc. of Doylestown, Penn., told the court.

Al-Hussayen, 34, faces charges of providing material support to terrorists, in part by operating and maintaining various Web sites for Islamic groups.

Authorities say the sites were part of an online network that helped international terrorists attract money and recruits, while Al-Hussayen maintains he only volunteered his help to legitimate religious outreach groups.

Rose’s testimony brought the first mention in front of the jury about four fatwas, or religious treatises, on the merits of suicide attacks — but the first of the four documents was displayed to the jury only in Arabic. Earlier, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge had blocked the use of the fatwas as evidence against Al-Hussayen until the government shows that they’re really connected to the Saudi Arabian computer science student.

Jurors on Tuesday heard only that the documents include information concerning suicide attacks.

One of the four documents includes a reference to flying planes into buildings to cause maximum damage to the enemy.

It was posted on the Internet in the spring of 2001 — months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. However, both sides have agreed that Al-Hussayen was not involved in those attacks.

Tying Al-Hussayen to those postings and others was much of Rose’s focus on Tuesday. He pointed to specific records extracted from Al-Hussayen’s computer showing that in April 2001 he received the articles four different Islamic clerics authored, and then set up a folder for them and posted them to the Web site in May 2001.

Pointing to various codes, symbols and dates found in his forensic examination of the home computer, Rose said, “This … confirms that this activity took place from this location, on this computer.”

However, there was no suggestion that Al-Hussayen wrote or typed in the four fatwas.

“It’s likely that a user copied that from another location,” Rose said.

The judge had cautioned attorneys on Monday that federal law protects those who simply cut and paste to pass along previously published information on the Internet.

Rose’s credentials as a forensic computer expert were so lengthy that it took more than half an hour to recite them. His career started from his days as a computer whiz in high school and progressed through a successful career in the military, and then to the private sector. While serving with the U.S. Army in Korea, Rose taught himself the Korean language. He also was selected for numerous specialized training programs and assignments, and his experience includes examining computers in espionage investigations.

SYTEX is a defense contractor that specializes in “programmatics, logistics and information technology services,” Rose said, including extracting previously deleted information from computers.

Defense attorneys, who likely will cross-examine Rose today, have maintained that Al-Hussayen had the suicide fatwas and other materials in his computer merely because he had to download the entire contents of a Web site and upload it again, to fix a technical problem. Rose’s evidence showed a long series of uploads to the site, all in April and May 2001.

Though Rose used such technical language as “human-readable text” and “meta-data,” which he defined as data about data, he also offered jurors some easy-to-understand metaphors for the complex records he explained. For example, he said 1 gigabyte of information is roughly equal to 500,000 pages of printed material. Al-Hussayen’s home computer hard drive contained 6 gigabytes of information. Two other computers, which will be analyzed later in the case and came from his home and his office, contain 30 and 80 gigs.

Rose pointed to specific information he found on Al-Hussayen’s computer to show that:

• Al-Hussayen was an owner or contact person for at least 15 Internet domain names.

• An Arabic-language document titled “Operations” found on his computer discussed martyrdom or suicide operations, and meta-data showed it was last saved by “IANA,” which is the abbreviation for the Islamic Assembly of North America. Al-Hussayen has acknowledged doing extensive volunteer work for IANA, including maintaining many of the group’s Web sites.

• Thousands of online donations or orders passed through the computer, ranging in amount from $2 to more than $10,000.

In one example, a donor wrote, “I am donating a one-time donation of $200 from my zakat (charity) money. $100 is to buy Islamic books to be donated to libraries. $100 is to support this site.” In another example, a donor from Saudi Arabia appeared to give $10,000 without comment.

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