Friday, July 23, 2010
MADE IN THE U.S.A.
07/22/10 - In the suburbs of Toledo—a bustling city on the northern border of Ohio—three men were leading seemingly normal lives. One worked at a travel agency. Another ran a car dealership with his brother. The third was a self-employed businessman with several kids.
All three, however—two American citizens and the third a legal permanent resident—were secretly part of a homegrown terror cell conspiring to recruit and train insurgents to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq. (Also part of the cell—two Chicago cousins named in a superseding indictment who were sentenced earlier this month after being recruited by one of the Toledo defendants.)
How did he end up in an American courtroom? Because U.S. law says that if human rights violators are U.S. nationals, commit offenses against U.S. citizens, or are present in this country, they can be charged here. In Taylor’s case, he was born in America, and he was arrested in 2006 while trying to enter the country illegally.
What the men didn’t realize was that we knew all about it—thanks to a cooperating witness who helped our investigation from start to finish, and testified at trial.
The case was opened in 2004 by our Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in our Toledo Resident Agency. Also pitching in were JTTFs in our Cleveland and Chicago Divisions, as well as a host of local, federal, and international partners.
Our cooperating witness, who began working for us after 9/11, was actually a decorated veteran of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, specifically playing the part of an ex-soldier, only with a twist—he’d grown disenchanted with U.S. policies, become a radical convert to Islam, and was willing to provide training for violent jihad.
For two years, during the operational phase of the investigation, our witness met with the three men—Mohammad Zaki Amawi, Marwan El-Hindi, and Wassim Mazloum—and made more than 100 secret (and fully lawful) recordings of those meetings, giving us a real-time view into the activities of the cell. At the same time, we were able to control what the trio obtained from our witness—for example, he didn’t give them actual explosives training.
Because of his military expertise, our witness gained the trust of all three men—crucial in such an operation. He even took a trip overseas to Jordan with Amawi, where he was introduced to Amawi’s family.
The recordings revealed a litany of activities and support in the name of terror. Working together or separately, the three men:
• Taught themselves how to make and use explosives;
• Conducted their own training exercises;
• Looked at and shared often graphic jihadist videos and materials on the Internet, including on how to make a suicide bomber’s vest;
• Tried to provide computers and explosives to mujahideen fighters overseas and attempted to set up a false company that would funnel money; and
• Discussed possible targets for their violent jihad, ultimately agreeing that they should go after U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
In February 2006—because of mounting concern about the intentions of Amawi, who was in Jordan at the time—we shut the operation down and took all three suspects into custody. All were found guilty at trial in June 2008, becoming the first members of a homegrown terror cell since 9/11 to be convicted at trial on terrorism-related charges. And the three men were sentenced last fall to prison terms ranging from eight to 20 years.
In the end, the success of the investigation was the result of both time-tested law enforcement techniques and our growing post-9/11 partnerships and intelligence-gathering/analysis capabilities.