Feds cagey on early Anwar Al-Awlaki ties
By JOSH GERSTEIN
10/4/13 3:56 PM EDT
Lawyers for a Virginia man serving a life sentence for supporting jihad against the United States pushed Friday to pry more information out of the federal government about the possibility that cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki may have been recruited as a government informant a decade ago.
During a federal court hearing in Alexandria, Va., U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema didn't sound inclined to grant motions by former cancer researcher and Muslim scholar Ali Al-Timimi seeking more details on the government's relationship with Al-Awlaki, as well as other facts Al-Timimi's lawyers say were withheld prior to and during his 2005 trial on charges such as aiding the Taliban and soliciting treason.
Al-Timimi lawyer Jonathan Turley said Al-Awlaki, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011, visited Al-Timimi at his home in October 2002 and "encouraged him to recruit....and actually raised issues of possible terrorist acts." The defense lawyer said that recently-released FBI files suggest that Al-Awlaki may have been acting as an "asset" for some government agency when he returned to the U.S. from abroad just prior to his meeting with Al-Timimi.
There was an outstanding warrant for Al-Awlaki's arrest on a fraud charge when he flew back into the U.S. in 2002, but he was admitted at JFK airport in New York after only a short delay.
However, prosecutor Gordon Kromberg insisted that the government turned over all information it was obligated to prior to Al-Timimi's trial and had no duty to detail its dealings with Al-Awlaki.
"Mr. Turley has no right to know [whether the government] had an asset into Awlaki at that time. Mr. Turley has no right to know if Mr. Awlaki was an asset at that time," Kromberg told Brinkema. The prosecutor did say the government had no recording of the meeting and Al-Timimi's defense was told that prior to his trial. "I don't know what happened at that meeting," Kromberg said.
The bearded Al-Timimi, clad in a blue Northern Neck Regional Jail jumpsuit, was in court for the hearing and passed a series of notes to Turley as he made his points to the judge.
Brinkema did not rule immediately on Al-Timimi's motions. However, the judge sounded skeptical about all of them. She initially said she wanted to hear more from the government about the Al-Awlaki issue, but later in the 40-minute session she suggested that if Al-Awlaki wasn't wearing a wire when he met with Al-Timimi in 2002 then it wouldn't have helped the defense to know that Al-Awlaki might have been an informant.
In the days after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Al-Awlaki—then the head imam at a mosque in Falls Church, Va.—was regarded by many in the government and the media as a voice for moderate Islam. He made a presentation at the Pentagon and did interviews with news outlets like National Public Radio.
However, he was also under intense surveillance by the FBI, apparently because of indications he had ties to the September 11 hijackers. Al-Awlaki left the U.S. for London in 2002 and eventually made his way to Yemen, emerging as one of the most strident English-language voices for Al Qaeda.
Some of Al-Timimi's motions seek information on whether he was subject to surveillance by the National Security Agency prior to his 2005 trial. Brinkema suggested Friday that part of the answer to those concerns is so highly classified that she is the only person at the court who is allowed to see it even though a number of other personnel are cleared to see "top secret" information.
Anwar Al-Awlaki: (a few selections)