Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, 43, a dual national of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to al Qaeda. Al-Marri entered his guilty plea at a hearing this afternoon before Judge Michael M. Mihm in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois. In so doing, al-Marri admitted that he agreed with others to provide material support or resources to al Qaeda in the form of personnel, including himself, to work under al Qaeda’s direction and control with the intent to further the terrorist activity or terrorism objectives of al Qaeda.
Judge Mihm scheduled sentencing for July 30, 2009. At sentencing, al-Marri faces up to 15 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, a life term of supervised release, and a $100 mandatory special assessment.
“Without a doubt, this case is a grim reminder of the seriousness of the threat we as a nation still face,” said Attorney General Holder.
Al-Marri was accused of attending terrorist training camps and was then sent to the United States to carry out terrorist attacks.
“Ali al-Marri was an al Qaeda ‘sleeper’ operative working on U.S. soil and directed by the chief planner of the 9-11 attacks. Al-Marri researched the use of chemical weapons, potential targets and maximum casualties,” said Arthur M. Cummings, II, executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Branch.
Al-Marri admitted that he traveled to central Illinois as an al Qaeda operative the day before the Sept.11, 2001, attacks to plan and prepare for future acts of terrorism within the United States.,
Just after taking office, President Obama directed the attorney general to lead an inter agency review of the case involving al-Marri, who had been detained as an enemy combatant by the Defense Department since June 2003. As a result of that review and an examination of the evidence gathered during the long-term investigation of al-Marri, the Justice Department decided to charge al-Marri in federal court. In February a federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment charging al-Marri with conspiring with others to provide material support to al Qaeda and providing material support to al Qaeda.
Al-Marri was later transferred from the custody of the Defense Department to the custody of the Justice Department and brought to the Central District of Illinois for trial on the two-count indictment. As part of the plea agreement announced today, the Justice Department has agreed to dismiss the second count of the indictment.
Al-Marri acknowledged that between 1998 and 2001 he attended various terrorist training camps where he learned the use of weapons and operational security trade craft that al Qaeda employed to avoid detection, conceal their communications and protect their operations. These methods included prearranged codes and other techniques to protect communications, counter-surveillance techniques and the protection of information on computers.
During these trips, al-Marri stayed in al Qaeda safe houses in Pakistan. While in the terrorist training camps and safe houses, he used the nickname Abdul-Rahman al-Qatari and provided al Qaeda operatives with his family contact information so they could inform his family should he be killed or “martyred” during an al-Qaeda mission.
In 2001, al-Marri was approached by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was then the external operations chief for al Qaeda and agreed to participate in terrorist attacks in the United States. He acknowledged that he was aware at that time that al Qaeda was responsible for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. Embassies in East Afric, and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. In addition, he was aware of the 1996 and 1998 fatwas issued by Osama bin Laden against the United States.
Al-Marri was instructed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to enter the United States no later than Sept. 10, 2001, with an understanding that he was to remain in the United States for an undetermined length of time. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed also directed al-Marri to meet with Mustafa al-Hawsawi in Dubai where al-Hawsawi, who al-Marri acknowledges was a primary financer of the 9/11 attacks, provided him with $10,000.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and al-Marri also set up a code through which they communicated. Al-Marri was instructed to conceal telephone numbers and other numbers to be used in e-mail addresses by using a numeric code known as a "10-code." This code was used by al Qaeda members, including al-Hawsawi and some of the Sept. 11th hijackers to conceal telephone numbers. Al-Marri was also provided contact information for several al-Qaeda associates which he stored in his personal PDA using the 10-code.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and al-Mari also used a pre-arranged code to disguise their e-mail communications. The pre-arranged communication method referred to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as “Muk.” Al-Marri was to refer to himself as “Abdo” in these communications and to send e-mails to an account used by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Through these e-mails, al-Marri was to keep Khalid Sheikh Mohammed apprised of his efforts to enter the United States, his contact information and his efforts to advance al-Qaeda’s mission in the United States. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was to use these e-mails to pass on instructions to al-Marri.
Details of the prearranged code were stored in an address book that was found in an al Qaeda safe house in Pakistan. The book contained the e-mail address to be used by al-Marri along with the identification number for al-Marri of “038.”
In the summer of 2001, leading up to the September 11 attack, al-Marri kept in close e-mail contact with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the U.S. on a student visa. He received the visa after applying online to Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois using the same e-mail address with which he communicated with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. .
After he was accepted at Bradleym, al-Marri traveled to Dubai and met with al-Hawsawi who then gave him the $10,000. He then traveled to Pakistan to meet Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Then it was off to Qatar where he applied for a new Qatari passport. He also obtained his student visa, but did not admit on his visa application that he had taken a trip to the United States in 2000 to set up a fictitious business using a false name and stolen Social Security number, fraudulently obtaining a number of credit cards and opening several business accounts.
Al-Marri and his family arrived in the United States on Sept. 10, 2001. On Sept. 21, 2001, he traveled to another university in Illinois and created five new e-mail accounts under different aliases. By this time, he knew al Qaeda was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and understood why Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had directed him to be in the United States before that date. Al-Marri used these new e-mail accounts to inform Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that he had arrived safely in the United States. He also provided Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with his Peoria cellular telephone number.
From Sept. 23, 2001 through Nov. 4, 2001, al-Marri made several unsuccessful attempts to call al-Hawsawi and others he knew were al Qaeda operatives. To conceal his communications efforts, he used prepaid calling cards at public pay phones in and around central and northern Illinois. Although the initial calls were made from payphones in the Peoria area, after al-Marri was interviewed by the FBI on Oct. 2, 2001, he expanded the calling area, sometimes traveling more 160 miles away to place calls.
Al-Marri also conducted online research of various cyanide compounds, including hydrogen cyanide, potassium cyanide, and sodium cyanide. He reviewed toxicity levels, locations where these items could be purchased, and specific pricing of the compounds. He also explored obtaining sulfuric acid, a well-known binary agent used in a hydrogen cyanide binary device to create cyanide gas, a method he learned in the al Qaeda training camps. .
Federal agents discovered an almanac in Al-Marri's home bookmarked at pages showing dams, waterways and tunnels that were potential targets in the United States.
Finally, al-Marri used an “anonymizer” program on his laptop when surfing the Internet. The program was designed to allow him to anonymously search Internet websites and programs, erasing all historical internet searches on a regular basis.
In December 2001, al-Marri was arrested on a material witness warrant issued in connection with the investigation of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He was later indicted on credit card fraud, making false statements and identity fraud charges. These charges were dismissed on June 23, 2003, when al-Marri was designated by President Bush as an enemy combatant and transported to the Naval Consolidated Brig in South Carolina. Al-Marri remained detained by the Defense Department until his transfer to Justice Department custody this year at President Obama's direction.