Two found guilty of terrorism conspiracy in Mich.
DETROIT -- Two Arab immigrants accused of collecting intelligence on potential terrorist targets such as Disneyland and a U.S. military base were convicted of being members of a "sleeper cell" Tuesday in the nation's first such trial stemming from the post-Sept. 11 security crackdown.
A third man was found guilty only on a fraud charge, and a fourth was acquitted of all counts.
"Today's verdict represents an important victory in the ongoing war against terrorism," U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Collins said. "Convicting two members of a terrorist sleeping cell, whose core aim is to avoid detection, is a daunting but crucial task for federal prosecutors."
The case began six days after Sept. 11 with a raid on a Detroit apartment that turned up videotape and sketches of what investigators said were potential terrorist targets, including Las Vegas and Disneyland.
The four Arab men, prosecutors alleged, worked as a sleeper cell that was part of a shadowy unidentified Muslim terrorist group. Prosecutors said the men conspired to help terrorists by raising money, producing false documents and gathering information.
Defense attorneys said their clients were victims of overzealous federal agents who relied on the lies of an admitted con man.
"Even in my client's conviction, there is no support for the government's contention," said William Swor, an attorney for Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, the alleged cell leader.
The trial was seen as an important test of the government's ability to root out sleeper cells operating the United States and stop terrorist attacks in the making.
"Today's convictions sends a clear message: The Department of Justice will work diligently to detect, disrupt and dismantle the activities of terrorist cells in the United States and abroad," said Attorney General John Ashcroft, who during the two-month trial was rebuked by the judge for publicly praising a government witness.
Other alleged terror cases prosecuted since Sept. 11, including those of shoe bomber Richard Reid and an alleged sleeper cell in Lackawanna, N.Y., ended in guilty pleas.
The verdicts in the Detroit trial came during the jury's seventh day of deliberations.
Elmardoudi, 37, and Karim Koubriti, 24, were found guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. They and Ahmed Hannan, 34, also were convicted of conspiracy to engage in fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents. Hannan was acquitted of conspiracy to support terrorism.
Farouk Ali-Haimoud, 22, was acquitted of all charges. He wept after the jury left the courtroom.
"I'm happy that the verdict was not guilty for me," Ali-Haimoud told reporters outside the courthouse. "I'm not a terrorist."
Elmardoudi could get up to 20 years in prison, Koubriti up to 10, and Hannan as much as five. No sentencing date was set. Their lawyers are expected to appeal.
Ali-Haimoud was released a few hours after the verdict, but police later arrested him on an outstanding warrant accusing him of attempting to solicit a prostitute.
Elmardoudi, who lived in Minneapolis, was arrested in North Carolina in 2002. He was found with a cache of identification documents and $83,000 in cash. The others were arrested in Detroit.