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Online net snared al Qaeda suspect

Richard Roesler Staff writer

TACOMA – A 26-year-old Washington National Guard tank crewman accused of offering help to al Qaeda terrorists was apparently not discovered by the FBI, or military intelligence, or Homeland Security.

Army Spc. Ryan Anderson was snared in a net cast by Shannen Rossmiller, a small-town Montana judge who’s made a hobby out of going on the Internet and pretending to be a Muslim terrorist.

Rossmiller was the first witness Wednesday, as Army lawyers laid out their case against Anderson in the first day of a two-day Article 32 investigation. A military judge will recommend whether to court-martial Anderson, a Muslim convert who faces five charges of trying to contact or aid the enemy. If court-martialed and convicted, the former Washington State University student could face the death penalty.

A surveillance video played in the courtroom Wednesday showed Anderson meeting with undercover Army agents and pointing out weak spots in military equipment, including thinly armored areas on tanks and other fighting vehicles.

“While I love my homeland, I think the leaders have taken us on a horrible road,” Anderson can be heard telling the agents, posing as al Qaeda terrorists. “They send me to die for something I do not believe in.”

In testimony Wednesday, Rossmiller said she’s been monitoring Web sites for about 2½ years, combing for terrorist threats or communications. She’s part of “7 Seas Global Intelligence,” a group of seven amateur terrorist-hunters. Four are in America; and the others are in Australia, Singapore and Canada.

Rossmiller said she found Anderson posting messages under the name Amir Abdul Rashid on a Web site called Brave Muslims. Running his e-mail addresses through Google, a common Internet search tool, she traced him to other Web sites and other aliases until she found his Army e-mail address. On one Web site’s member directory, she said, he’d posted a photo purportedly of himself. It shows a man in a red hood, holding a rifle and peering out through blinds across a window.

To feel him out, Rossmiller e-mailed him a message titled “Call to jihad.”

He wrote back, wondering “if a brother fighting on the wrong side could join or defect.”

They began a correspondence. After two dozen e-mail messages, Rossmiller said, she was convinced that Anderson wasn’t kidding around. On Nov. 10, she went to Great Falls and met with an FBI agent, who brought along a military intelligence specialist from nearby Malmstrom Air Force Base.

A few weeks later, military intelligence officials at Fort Lewis launched a sting operation. An Army special agent named Ricardo Romero began exchanging text messages with Anderson via cell phone.

In the messages, which were shown in court, Anderson boasted of his military expertise, saying he was a skilled shooter and “student of irregular warfare.” Asked if he could teach insurgents to counter American convoy defense tactics, he said, “Absolutely.”

The messages suggest that Anderson worried about his future if he defected.

“I will be unwelcome in the only land I’ve ever known as home, never to see my parents again,” he wrote. He worried about being executed or ending up “in a federal prison, being abused like a woman by men.” He said he would miss his wife, home, cats and rifles.

Still, he wrote, “I pray we will be able to fight in the ‘little jihad’ side by side soon. My hands long for a Kalashnikov (rifle).”

By early February, the Army had Anderson under 24-hour surveillance by 12 agents in six cars. They’d attached a tracking device to his car. Then they set up a meeting between Anderson and two agents posing as al Qaeda members.

The second meeting took place in an SUV parked in a lot near Seattle’s Space Needle. The car was rigged with microphones and a video camera.

During the videotaped conversation, Anderson said he was disillusioned with American government and dismayed by “the emptiness” of American society. He said he was sickened by the ways that fellow soldiers referred to Muslims and Arabs.

He turned over schematics of Army tanks and pointed out thin spots in the armor. He gave detailed descriptions on how to blind a tank driver’s viewports, forcing the driver to open the hatch. Anderson described how to destroy a tank’s main gun, blow off the treads and overheat or smother the engine. He pointed out ways to blow off the hatch hinges or knock off a tank’s protective skirting.

“That will provide you better access to the hull here, which is more easily penetrated,” Anderson told the undercover agents. He described how a grenade in a hatch would kill the driver, but that the tank would remain useable.

The Army muted out parts of the video, apparently because the vulnerabilities are classified.

Three days after that meeting, Army and federal agents raided Anderson’s Lakewood, Wash., apartment and took him into custody.

He’s been held at Fort Lewis’ detention center since Feb. 12.

It was unclear from Wednesday’s testimony what sort of defense Anderson intends to make. He seemed upbeat, taking notes and chatting with his attorney.

Army officials wouldn’t allow him to be interviewed.

Most of his unit, the 81st Armor Brigade, deployed to Iraq last month without him.

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