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News >  Idaho

Trial focuses on Internet activity

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE — Computer records show a University of Idaho graduate student intentionally posted to the Internet four articles offering religious justifications for suicide attacks, federal prosecutors say.

Those same computer records, however, also show the same articles, plus thousands of other files, being posted repeatedly to the same Web site as part of an automated maintenance program, jurors learned Wednesday during Sami Al-Hussayen’s terrorism trial.

David Nevin, lead defense attorney for Al-Hussayen, led prosecution computer expert Curtis Rose through a 47,130-line report on Wednesday documenting every time the program sent an updated file to during a one-month period in the spring of 2003.

“What’s going on here is just simply the maintenance of a Web site, keeping it up to date—correct?” Nevin asked Curtis. “Yes,” Curtis responded.

However, Curtis said he still maintained that his analysis shows that the user of a computer seized from Al-Hussayen’s apartment created a folder for three of the fatwas on the computer on May 2, 2001, added the fourth on May 13, 2001, and later uploaded all four to two Web sites.

The four religious treatises are taking center stage in Al-Hussayen’s terrorism trial, as prosecutors attempt to show that the Saudi Arabian student’s work on Islamic Web sites helped international terrorists raise funds and attract recruits. Earlier, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge blocked the suicide fatwas from being used as evidence against Al-Hussayen until prosecutors can prove they’re tied to the student; this morning, both sides will argue whether or not that standard has been met.

Nevin noted that a lengthy “synchronization log,” which shows more than 3,000 files being automatically posted to between mid-April of 2001 and mid-May of the same year, shows the four fatwas being sent at least four times each, including several times prior to the date when Rose contends the user intentionally posted the items.

Under cross-examination, the noted Pennsylvania computer expert also acknowledged that:

• The computer shows evidence of more than one user.

• Rose’s contention that the four fatwas were “created” on the seized computer doesn’t mean a user of the computer wrote them, but merely that he or she saved them. The text could have been copied from an e-mail, a Web site, or another source, he said.

• The government is paying him about $60,000 for his expert testimony.

Rose told federal Prosecutor Todd Hinnen that in his opinion, the Web site development and maintenance work shown on the computer hard drive would have been “a full-time job.”

But he also testified that the key activity he observed — the creation of the file for three of the four fatwas — occurred during a 45-minute period on May 2, 2001, during which the computer’s user also browsed Web pages; read e-mail; set up a meeting related to schoolwork; copied the three fatwas to a Microsoft Word document; placed other articles into other files; received an e-mailed donation form from someone donating $20 to; and set up an index for a “reciter” program for online recitation of verses from the Quran.

“All in a period of 45 minutes?” Hinnen asked Rose. “Yes,” he responded.

Nevin pointed to files on the computer including a document that appeared to be a letter to a woman from a man about child support and parenting issues regarding the writer’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.”

Said Rose, “I saw, during my process, evidence of use of the system which could have been by another person, yes.”

Though the computer was seized from Al-Hussayen’s home on Feb. 26, 2003, that evidence could suggest the computer was elsewhere at some earlier point.

Nevin also questioned Rose about his contention that the user of the seized computer “created” the four fatwas. Three of the two- to three-page documents were created within two minutes of each other, according to the computer records Rose cited.

“That’s not enough time to type a two- or three-page document,” Nevin said.

“I don’t know how fast somebody could type,” Rose responded. “More than likely, that’s not enough time.”

The computer wouldn’t be able to tell whether the user of the computer typed in the documents or copied them from elsewhere, Rose said.

The four fatwas, each written by a different Islamic cleric, offer varying perspectives on religious justifications for suicide attacks, but all are supportive. One makes a reference to flying planes into buildings to cause the enemy maximum damage. Both sides in the case, however, have agreed that Al-Hussayen was not involved in those attacks.

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