A Setback for Ashcroft, and Other Global Terrorists
Washington Post report: Federal judge rejects Bush Junta 'war on brown people' proposal.
By T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 9, 2003; Page A03
DENVER, April 8 -- A federal judge rebuffed the government's Joint Terrorism Task Force today and ordered the release of two Pakistanis living in Denver whom the FBI has described as potential terrorists eager to wage war against the United States.
After reviewing hours of FBI testimony, U.S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock ruled that "the government has failed to establish" that either Irfan Kamran, 32, or Sajjad Naseer, 27, pose any danger. The judge also rejected the Justice Department's suggestion that the pair would flee to Pakistan if released from jail.
Babcock noted that much of the evidence that prosecutors cited in arguing that the defendants were involved with terrorism came from statements the two men made in voluntary interviews with the FBI. Babcock also displayed skepticism when the prosecution introduced information provided by "a confidential source." When the judge asked from the bench whether the source was reliable, an FBI witness replied that this, too, was classified information.
After the ruling, federal prosecutors said they still consider the two men dangerous, and may appeal their release.
Neither Kamran nor Naseer has been charged with any offense related to terrorism. They were among six Denver residents indicted last month on suspicion of harboring an illegal immigrant. A federal magistrate released five of the six on bail. Federal prosecutors then asked that Kamran and Naseer be held in jail, citing the alleged links to terrorism.
In that sense, the Denver case reflects a pattern seen in the prosecution of several alleged terrorism cells around the country: Defendants are charged with other crimes, and then prosecutors report terrorism allegations when asking judges to deny bail.
"They dig up any charge they can think of to get these guys into court," said David Lane, Naseer's lawyer. "Then they haul out their unnamed sources and classified evidence and tell the judge this is really a case of terrorism."
Defense attorneys charged that the prosecution's effort to deny bail amounted to discrimination based on national origin. "If Mr. Naseer were Canadian," Lane told the judge, "he would be out on bond now."
The case against Naseer, Kamran and their four codefendants grew out of FBI interviews with Iraqis and Pakistanis in the Denver area. FBI Special Agent Michael Castro, assigned to the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, said the two men agreed to voluntary interviews earlier this year.
Castro told the judge that Naseer told him of a trip to Pakistan in the summer of 2001, when Naseer accompanied a friend to a military training camp run by the "Army of Mohammed." About four months after Naseer attended the camp, the United States listed the Army of Mohammed as a terrorist organization.
Naseer told the FBI agent, Castro testified, that he left the camp after four or five days because he did not like the running and other strenuous activities required of the trainees. Castro said Naseer "also attended rallies in support of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden." The agent said that these activities "amount to providing material support for a foreign terrorist organization."
But Babcock concluded that the most important point was Naseer's decision to leave the camp. "It has the ring of credibility to me that he was trying it out, didn't like it, and left it," the judge said.
Castro, of the FBI, also testified that an FBI search of Naseer's Denver home turned up a video that showed mujaheddin soldiers assembling rifles and preparing grenades. But Castro testified that he did not understand the video's language and did not have it translated.
Lane said the video was a documentary about the battle by mujaheddin fighters to resist the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
The FBI evidence against Kamran came largely from a single confidential source, Castro testified. The source said Kamran had boasted that he would go to Pakistan to train in jihad, or holy war, techniques against the United States and Israel. Castro said that the source had overheard Kamran saying there would be retaliatory attacks again in this country if the United States attacked Iraq.
In granting bail, the judge noted that neither defendant had ever been accused of an act of violence. He observed that both men have homes and families in Denver, and thus do not pose "a risk of flight."
Babcock released Kamran on $30,000 bail, which the defendant has already posted. He released Naseer on $100,000 bail. However, Naseer is being detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency on a separate charge, so he will not immediately go free.
When Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gaouette asked Babcock to hold Kamran in jail pending an appeal of the bail order, the judge would have none of it. "He's already been jailed for days," Babcock said. "If you want to appeal, the 10th Circuit [Court of Appeals] is right across the street."
Naseer was identified as Nasser in charging documents and earlier news reports, but Castro testified that Social Security cards found in his home correctly spelled his last name as Naseer.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
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