Thursday, February 24, 2005

Alleged LeT Member in Bush Assassination Plot

Earlier this week, 23-year old American Ahmed Omar Abu Ali was indicted in US Federal Court for plotting, with Al Qaeda, an assasination attempt on President Bush. Stephen Schwarz, in his New York Post column, alerts us to Mr. Abu Ali's links to, of all groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba -- the same Pakistan-sponsored terror group that has long been murdering innocent people in Kashmir. Here's the quote:

... Abu Ali is also a familiar figure to U.S. law-enforcement officials and terrorism experts. In mid-2003, federal authorities shut down a Northern Virginia a network of born Muslims and American converts to Islam, headed by convert Randall (Ismail) Royer.

Known as the "paintball jihad," the defendants in the case were supporters of Lashkar-i-Taiba, a violent Wahhabi militia fighting against Indian authorities in Kashmir. They practiced for jihad by playing paintball in the woods, went to Kashmir to carry and use weapons, and then tried to explain away their weekend activities near Washington as harmless fun.

In April 2004 Royer was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Of his codefendants, six pled guilty, three were convicted and two were acquitted. One got a life sentence and another got 85 years.
Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, described by federal prosecutors as a member of the group, escaped the initial crackdown and fled to Saudi Arabia, where he was arrested later in 2003.

Mr. Abu Ali's supporters claim that he, a high school valedictorian in Virginia, has been in Saudi custody since June 2003 -- where he was tortured while Americans looked the other way. His parents have sued the Government for failing to protect his rights as an American citizen.

Liberal American opinion, such as this New York Times editorial, have been quick to condemn the US Government for civil rights issues raised by the matter. Per the Times, Mr. Abu Ali's case is "another demonstration of what has gone wrong in the federal war on terror". They are upset that the US did not bring him back home earlier, so that he could face justice in US court.

Mr. Abu Ali is entitled to a presumption of innocence -- and certainly we do not condone torture, even if, for example, such torture is technically at the hands of another nation with lesser scruples. In fact, if a nation uses an ally to inflict torture while claiming its own disdain for such torture, it -- in our view -- is morally more culpable than even the torture-inflictor.

Having said that, in this case the accusations of torture seem odd. Afterall, as Andy McCarthy points out in The Corner, US courts forbid all evidence obtained under torture -- so, if US were indeed looking away while Saudis did their thing, they were only damaging their case against Mr. Abu Ali. This makes little sense.

We have to wait for the facts to come out in court -- we will reserve our judgement till then. Still, this is a curious case whose facts, if true, alert us to the continuing Al Qaeda threat at the hands of people who one would ordinarily not suspect, and the links between regional terror groups like LeT and their global mentors like Al Qaeda.

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