2 Held After Guns, Documents Found in Raids
Washington Post, June 26, 2003
By Susan Schmidt, Washington Post Staff Writer
The FBI and a federal grand jury in Alexandria are investigating whether a group of area Muslim men has been preparing in Virginia for jihadist combat abroad, sources and court papers say.
At least two of the men — one is the son of a former Yemeni diplomat — are in federal custody. Federal agents with search warrants have raided the homes of about a dozen others in the D.C. suburbs and have seized rifles, other weapons, scopes, ammunition, terrorist literature and other documents, court papers show.
One facet of the probe involves questions of whether the men were aiding the Lashkar-i-Taiba, a group involved in the fighting in Kashmir that has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
The men, who played paintball together in Virginia before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, attended lectures given by Muslim scholar Ali al-Timimi, whose Fairfax home also was searched, court records and sources said. Timimi, the sources said, instructed his followers to go overseas after the Sept. 11 attacks.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, whose office is heading the investigation, declined to comment through a spokesman.
An attorney for one of the men in custody denied that the men are involved in criminal activities and said he believes that the grand jury will clear them. The attorney, Salim Ali, also said that the government misinterpreted Timimi’s message. “He just means if you have difficulties, leave the area,” Ali said. “Seek refuge somewhere else.”
Ali’s client, Ibrahim al-Hamdi, a Yemeni national, has pleaded guilty to illegally possessing a semiautomatic rifle and will be sentenced Aug. 1.
Ali also said that the FBI is reading too much into innocent paintball games the men played in the Virginia countryside. “The government is trying to make it seem like these men are trying to do jihad,” he said. Ali said he is confident that “once the grand jury is complete, they will realize there is no terrorist ring.”
The dozen or so search warrants were issued between February and May and indicate that the FBI was seeking “materials relating to any kind of military style training, jihad, violence against the United States, support of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and/or any other terrorist group.” The warrants also seek materials indicating support for Lashkar-i-Taiba, which is on the State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Warrants issued last month seek additional information about people traveling to foreign countries that have good relations with the United States for the purpose of fighting against that country or providing money to those who do.
Details of the probe were first reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
One of the men being investigated as part of the group, Ahmed Abu-Ali of Falls Church, has been taken into custody by Saudi Arabian authorities investigating the May 12 terror bombings in Riyadh. His lawyer, Ashraf Nubani, declined to be interviewed but said in a statement that “it’s disturbing that the U.S. government would be unwilling or unable to get access to an American who disappeared into the legal system of a country not known for its respect for due process. For all we know, the Saudis may be torturing him.”
U.S. officials have made informal requests to the Saudi government for access to Abu-Ali, but have not yet received any response, said Kelly Shannon of the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. She said a formal request was sent to the Saudi foreign ministry June 16.
Timimi — whose Fairfax home also was searched, court records say — in the past lectured at Dar el Arkum in Falls Church, and on at least one occasion around the end of last year at the Islamic Foundation of America in Springfield, according to officials of those organizations. But he has not lectured at Dar el Arkum in several years, an official there said. No one answered the door at his home yesterday.
Most of the search warrants issued in connection with the investigation were served on men in Northern Virginia and Maryland. Among them is Donald T. Surratt, of Suitland. Weapons recovered from his home included a Russian Saiga rifle and a .45-caliber Glock pistol, both seized May 7, according to court papers. Surratt declined to comment yesterday.
In addition to Hamdi, the other man in custody is Yong Ki Kwon, a 27-year-old South Korean living in Fairfax who was arrested April 29 on a charge of conspiracy to commit passport fraud. Court papers indicate that Kwon has been “remanded to appear before the grand jury as directed.” Most of the filings connected with Kwon’s case have been filed under seal.
Staff writers David Cho, Jerry Markon, Josh White and Maria Glod contributed to this report.