TOLEDO -- A federal grand jury has indicted three Toledo-area men for terrorist activities. Prosecutors say the three conspired to wage a "holy war" against the United States and coalition forces in the Middle East. The indictment was unsealed Monday.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says it was work by the F.B.I. and the Toledo Joint Terrorism Task Force that led to the indictments. If the three are convicted on the most serious charges, the suspects could be sentenced to life in prison.
"Individuals who aid terrorists from within our borders threaten the safety of all Americans," said Gonzales in a news conference in Washington, DC. "And this case stands as a reminder of the need for continued vigilance in the war on terrorism. We are committed to protecting Americans, here and overseas, particularly the brave men and women of the US armed forces who are serving our country."
According to the indictment, the suspects are Mohammad Zaki Amawi, Marwan Othman El-Hindi, and Wassim Mazloum. The indictment says all three were living in the Toledo area. Amawi is a citizen of the US and also a citizen of Jordan. El-Hindi is a naturalized American citizen who was born in Jordan. He was arrested over the weekend at his home on Suder Avenue in Toledo. Mazloum is a legal permanent resident of the US, who came here from Lebanon.
Mazloum also operated a car business in Toledo with his brother. The indictment accuses him of offering to use his dealership as a cover for traveling to and from Iraq so that he could learn how to build small explosives using household materials.
The indictment also names an unindicted co-conspirator called "The Trainer," who has U.S. military backround in security, and bodyguard training.
In count 1 of the indictment, prosecutors say the three met together many times, going back as far as November 2004. The three reportedly conspired to recruit and train others for a violent jihad against United States forces and US allies in Iraq. They also reportedly put together the funding needed for the operation, collected the equipment needed, and even travelled together to a local indoor shooting range for target practice.
Prosecutors also say the three communicated by computer with an individual in the Middle East, passing information about potential attacks and terrorist training materials back and forth, as well as communication about potential weapons and targets.
The indictment did not say if any attacks were imminent. Two of the men discussed plans to practice setting off explosives on July 4, 2005, so that the bombs would not be noticed, the indictment alleges. It's not clear if the suspects went through with those plans.
In count 2, the grand jury found that the three had similar plans to kill US citizens abroad in addition to service members.
The last three counts in the indictment dealt specifically with Mohammad Zaki Amawi. One count said Amawi distributed information on bomb-making, which in itself is a federal crime. Prosecutors also said he verbally threatened President George W. Bush, and filed two counts for that. Those crimes are separate from the conspiracy.
"Counter terrorism investigations are not simple," said John Pistole, the Deputy Director of the F.B.I, who also spoke at the news conference with Gonzales. "It is through the hard work, dedication, and ingenuity of federal, state, and local law enforcement that we have been able to detect the enemy amongst us."
El-Hindi, 42, was the first to be arraigned in federal court in Toledo. He shook his head as the judge read the charges, then pleaded not guilty. "We intend to show that he's not guilty," said Steven Hartman, attorney for El-Hindi. "He's caught up in the overzealous Justice Department." El-Hindi was sent back to jail, with Magistrate Vernelious Armstrong calling him a flight risk and a danger to the community.
Mazloum, 24, was second, and he also pleaded not guilty. His wife was in the courtroom for the proceedings, softly crying. She had no comment after the arraignment was over. Mazloum was also sent back to jail in Toledo. He is a senior at the University of Toledo, majoring in computer science.
A detention hearing is scheduled for Friday for both. If convicted, Mazloum could be deported, since he's not an American citizen.
Mohammad Zaki Amawi, 26, pleaded not guilty in Cleveland U.S. District Court.
Gregory White, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said the first tips to the conspiracy were called into his office and to the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Toledo from the community. He credited old-fashioned law enforcement with breaking the case.
When asked about whether information in this case was gathered by the warrentless wiretapping being conducted by the NSA, Gonzales said he felt this was a strong case, but did not elaborate whether wiretapping was used.
Gonzales also would not say if the arrests had any connection with KindHearts, a charity that was raided and closed over the weekend. The government also froze the assets of the charity, saying it was sending money to Hamas and Al-Qaeda, groups linked to terror. "What I can say is that they're separate investigations," said Gonzales. "They also happen to be coordinated investigations... The indictment doesn't allege ties to specific groups that these individuals might have had."
Count on News 11 for continuing live coverage of the case as it develops.
Posted by AEB