Criminal Justice & the Rule of Law Terrorism & Extremism

International Terrorism Prosecutions: An ISIS-Free Week

Nora Ellingsen
Wednesday, March 22, 2017, 12:03 PM

The National Security Division of the Justice Department released several press releases last week—and surprisingly, none of the cases had a nexus to the Islamic State.

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The National Security Division of the Justice Department released several press releases last week—and surprisingly, none of the cases had a nexus to the Islamic State.

First, in federal district court in the Eastern District of New York, a jury returned a verdict convicting Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun, 46, of multiple terrorism offenses including conspiracy to murder American military personnel in Afghanistan and conspiracy to bomb the U.S. embassy in Nigeria. According to the Justice Department’s press release, Harun, an al Qaeda operative and citizen of Niger, traveled to Afghanistan to join al Qaeda shortly before September 11, 2001. Following the attacks and in anticipation of the U.S. invasion, he was sent to training camps in Afghanistan, where he learned how to use weapons and explosives.

After his training, Harun traveled to Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, where he reported to Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, one of bin Laden’s deputies. In April 2003, he and other al Qaeda operatives ambushed a U.S. military patrol, killing two U.S. soldiers. He then fled to Pakistan where he met with Abu Faraj al-Libi, al Qaeda’s external operations chief, and expressed his desire to conduct attacks on behalf of al Qaeda outside of Afghanistan. That summer he traveled to Nigeria, where he planned to bomb the U.S. Embassy. However, when his co-conspirator was arrested, he fled Nigeria for Libya. From Libya he planned to enter Europe where he aimed to carry out additional terrorist attacks against Western targets. However, before he could leave the country, he was arrested by Libyan authorities and held from 2005 until June 2011.

After his release, Harun boarded a refugee ship bound for Italy, where he was arrested by Italian authorities after assaulting some of the officers onboard. Harun spent a year in detention in Italy, until the Italian Minister of Justice ordered his extradition to the United States in September 2012.

Notably, Harun likely could have been prosecuted by military commission under different circumstances, given his affiliation and work with al Qaeda. However, Italy likely forbade prosecution in a military commission as a condition of the extradition, and Harun ended up in civilian court, where he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. His sentencing is set for June 22nd.

Across the country, on March 7th, Balwinder Singh was sentenced in the District of Nevada to 15 years in federal prison for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, according to the Justice Department’s press release. A citizen of India and a U.S. permanent resident, Singh conspired with others to support terrorist attacks in India as part of a movement to create an independent Sikh state in the Punjab region of India. Singh met with his co-conspirators in California, one of whom agreed to travel to India to commit the attack—likely the assassination of an Indian government official. Singh bought night vision goggles and a laptop for his co-conspirator and helped him to plan the attack until Singh’s arrest in December 2011.

Later in the week, the Justice Department revisited a terrorist attack that occurred over 16 years ago. On March 14th, the Justice Department unsealed a complaint against Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, charging her with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals outside the U.S., resulting in death. According to the Justice Department’s press release, Al-Tamimi, a Jordanian journalist, was involved in a 2001 bombing at a Sbarro pizza in a Jerusalem restaurant that killed 15 people and wounded approximately 122 others. Two Americans were killed, including one child, and four Americans were wounded.

The government alleges that Al-Tamimi carried out the attacks on behalf of Hamas. In early August 2001, she met with a suicide bomber in the West Bank and drove with him to Jerusalem. She then led him to a crowded area in downtown Jerusalem and instructed him to denote his bomb, which was concealed within a guitar case.

Several years after the attack, Al-Tamimi pleaded guilty in Israeli court to multiple counts of murder. Although she was sentenced to 16 life sentences, she ended up serving only eight years, and was released in October 2011 as part of a prisoner swap with Hamas. Al-Tamimi was amongst the 1,027 prisoners that Israel released in exchange for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been seized more than five years earlier in a cross border raid. According to the New York Times, half of the prisoners involved in the exchange were serving four years or less, but Al-Tamimi was among the ten percent who had been sentenced to ten years or more.

Following her release from Israeli custody, Al-Tamimi returned to Jordan. According to the DOJ press release, the Jordanian courts have ruled that their constitution forbids the extradition of Jordanian nationals, but Al-Tamimi faces life in prison or death if she were to face charges in the federal district court in the District of Columbia. In addition to unsealing the complaint on Tuesday, the FBI also gave Al-Tamimi her own poster when adding her to the Most Wanted List.

Nora Ellingsen is a third-year student at Harvard Law School. Prior to graduate school, she spent five years working for the FBI's Counterterrorism Division. She graduated cum laude from Northwestern University with a B.A. in Psychology and Political Science.

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