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Day 9: Janice Bassil Cross-Examines Ali Aboubakr

The following transcript lays out with in-depth detail Janice Bassil’s 4-hour cross-examination of Ali Aboubakr, the government’s first cooperating witness to be called to the stand. Examination and cross-examination is conventionally managed through electronic records of chat logs between Ali and Tarek. Over the 4-hour hearing, Bassil methodically revisited the chat logs that the prosecution focused on the day before, then worked to systematically picked them apart. Here is the :

  • Janice asked Ali about the group of friends, gatherings to study hadith; Janice – “you were a group of friends, not a terrorist cell, right?” (Ali confirmed this was right).
  • Saudi government put money into helping Muslims in America meet and study, sent books to US promulgating Wahhabi or Salafi ideology – more conservative, “fundamentalist”; “Nadi Saudi” (e.g., the Saudi recreational center) in Quincy where friends would gather; after Saudi govt. stopped paying the rent their meeting place moved to center in Roxbury.
  • Janice pointed out that despite the fact that after 9/11 there was a lot of discussion of OBL (Osama Bin Laden) and the West vs. Islam, this was analogous to the Prophet’s struggle in Mecca and Medina, monotheists vs. polytheists – this struggle is discussed in hadiths.
  • The word “jihad” is in the hadiths and Quran discussing battles of Muslims vs. polytheists; not a new word, has been around for centuries – refers to concept of defending Islam against those who attack it
  • Ali said that Ahmed Abu Samra talked about Zarqawi a great deal, but Tarek not so much.
  • Ali summoned to Grand Jury; he was frightened; asked questions by Chakravarty and Auerhahn but didn’t remember answers to many questions, asked prosecutors if they had documents that would jog his memory; Auerhahn pointed out that immunity order did not protect Ali from perjury and recommended that Ali “improve his memory”; Given it was a Grand Jury trial, Ali’s lawyer not allowed to be with him in the courtroom.
  • Ali met with prosecutors and FBI on two occasions after Grand Jury subpoena – once in September and most recently last Monday for 4 hours – with “Jeff” (Auerhahn) with whom he is on a first-name basis (JB—“casual?” Ali: “No.” JB—“friendly?” Ali: “Yes,”). Tom Daily, and his lawyer à 7.5 hours total after Grand Jury that Ali met with them to discuss his testimony.
  • Ali said Tarek thought 9/11 was retaliation for what US did in Muslim lands; Ali thought this too (i.e. sanctions in Iraq that resulted in Iraqi children dying).
  • Janice described how even individual Muslims feel part of a greater “Ummah” – feel bad when Muslims in other lands are killed (i.e. Chechnya, Bosnia).
  • They (Tarek, Ali, Ahmed, etc.) felt like the US (on 9/11) finally understood how Muslims felt – Ali responded that “now the US knows how we feel.”
  • Ahmed AS and Daniel Spalding talked about Al-Maqdisi and Zarqawi a lot, but Tarek not so much.
  • Ali asked Tarek for help with a Friday sermon (khutbah) he was giving at UMass Amherst
  • Ahmed had become very intense/extreme, didn’t like people disagreeing with him à was quick to call people disbelievers for disagreeing with him (“takfir”); Ali: Ahmed had “an element of insanity” to his personality, “I miss the old Ahmed”; Tarek however did not do this
  • They were upset by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and stealing of Palestinian land; didn’t feel that Israel had a right to exist; angered by US support of Israel
  • Ali bought a book by OBL: “Messages to the World: The Statements to Osama Bin Laden”; he admired OBL for giving up his wealth and fighting in the first Afghan war against the Soviets
  • Afghans did not have many resources or weapons at the time; there was a call to other Muslims to help in the Mujahideen’s struggle à Abdullah Azzam came to the US to encourage people to fight in Afghanistan and the US supported this, provided money, ammunition, training, etc.
  • “The Lion’s Den” à where OBL was in the first Afghan war, the battle he took part in between Mujahideen and the Soviets, prior to 9/11.
  • In the grand jury Ali said he thought the “Lion’s Den” happened “in Tora Bora shortly after 9/11” – this was factually and historically incorrect, but prosecutors did not correct him
  • Muslims admired OBL for living simply and being pious – Ali agreed with Tarek on this
  • Tarek told Ali hadith of how to get a million good deeds from Sahih Al-Jami’; Tarek told Ali stories, hadiths, etc. to help with his khutbah and told him “not to focus on hatred of the kuffar”, but to be positive and “show how Islam is superior to the disbelievers”; be positive, respectful, not forceful; Muslim duty to educate others about Islam in a respectful way, not forceful conversion.
  • Tarek made and printed out flyers with the purpose of calling others to Islam
  • Tarek had first read about OBL BEFORE 9/11, about his role in fighting against the Soviets; the defeat of the Soviets was attributed to him and the mujahideen; Reagan and Rumsfeld called the Mujahideen “freedom fighters” and they were considered heroes.
  • Ali felt attached to OBL; said he was jealous that people like the prophet and his companions didn’t exist in modern times; OBL made him feel proud, he was “just like the companions, no difference between them”; he “couldn’t believe that someone like that actually existed.”
  • Ali told Tarek about his excitement when a non-Muslim Barnes and Noble customer said he admired OBL; Tarek said “this is a perfect person to call to Islam”; Ali was also excited that the book about OBL had a picture of Haqqani, one of the Mujahideen who shielded OBL after 9/11.
  • Ali was very interested in Afghan-Soviet war; wanted to talk to his brother-in-law (BIL) about his role in the war.
  • Wanted to talk to BIL about Lion’s Den but his BIL never spoke about it; Tarek asked if the BIL met Abdullah Azzam; Azzam was assassinated in 1990 (before 9/11).
  • Ali had lengthy discussions with Tarek about his dad; was having difficulties with his father in Feb. 2006 regarding grades, school, etc.; Tarek tried to get him to see it from his dad’s point of view – 2 hour conversation made Ali feel much better, tried to improve relationship with his father.
  • He also talked to Tarek about facebook and whether it was proper to talk to girls on FB without parental supervision (i.e. they discussed a variety of topics).
  • Ali was Salafi, conservative; attended mosque with his parents often as a kid; complained about “cultural Muslims” who only occasionally prayed or came to the mosque on special occasions .
  • Janice: “Tarek emailed you articles, hadiths, etc?” and Ali responds “read some but not all of these.”
  • When asked by Janice how he felt about the beliefs he “used” to have, Ali replied that he felt “absolutely” embarrassed by the beliefs he used to have.
  • Ali read a book called “The Oath” about a surgeon working in Chechnya during ethnic cleansing and operated on the fighters; Ali said he wanted to go fight in Chechnya after reading it.
  • Tarek talked about the comfortable lives they lived in the US and was hurt by the suffering of his Muslim brothers and sisters around the world (i.e. the 14 year old girl who was gang-raped and murdered in Iraq).
  • Tarek read a book by Newsweek reporter (e.g., NOT jihadist, fundamentalist, Al-Qaeda member, etc.) called “Jihad: Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia.”
  • While Tarek did give Ali a DVD called “The 19 Martyrs” about the 19 9/11 hijackers, Ali would watch videos with Dan Spalding and Ahmed AbuSamra: also downloaded videos on his own of fighting in Chechnya; However, Tarek sent him videos from MSNBC and Al-Jazeera.
  • Ahmed said “WTC was financial infrastructure of the US and because the US is a democracy, all Americans are legitimate targets”; Tarek did not share this view and said that we shouldn’t retaliate against Americans, that they don’t all agree with the actions of the government.
  • “United 93” movie revisited by Janice who noted that: Ali told Tarek that “it was sooooo funny!,” Janice focused on his use of language to express his excitement and emotion, asking him whether he felt excited about the movie, to which Ali replied on the stand that he did not mean those words and that he said them only in an effort to ingratiate himself with Tarek.
  • Ali was scared when summoned by the Grand Jury; asked about a number of statements he made to Jay, he claims that he said those things to impress Tarek, that he held these beliefs because of Tarek, and to “enhance his relationship” with Tarek. In fact, Ali never mentioned any of this in the Grand Jury in 2006, and yet it is only now that Ali says that these beliefs he held because of Tarek. Asked by Janice, Ali states that he saw Tarek as an “educator,” AFTER meeting with prosecutors and after being afraid of being the one on trial (JB – “you were scared you’d be the one sitting here next to me,”), Janice successfully positioned him to wants to keep relationship with the Feds “friendly.”
  • Tarek sent Ali a link to an FBI website about the 9/11 hijackers; Ali could not recall how many times he watched the 9/11 video; did not watch all of the video about Umar Hadeed
  • Ali bought 9/11 Commission Report on his own; not given to him by Tarek; said “the attacks were genius, both those who planned them and those who carried them out” and that the 9/11 commission report was “full of lies.”
  • Umar Hadeed – insurgent in Iraq killed during fighting in Fellujah.
  • Janice shows pictures of torture and humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison – one of the reasons the young men were angry.
  • Video: “Fatima’s Fiance” – about a man going to carry out a suicide mission because his fiancé Fatima was raped/tortured at Abu Ghraib by American soldiers; watched the video with Tarek online, stayed up till 1 am watching it.
  • They never had the urge to become suicide bombers after seeing these videos; Tarek never expressed the urge to become a suicide bomber.
  • Wasn’t a crime to write about OBL or watch videos “at the time”; JB – “ you say you don’t know now because you fell into this pot of federal trouble.”
  • Ali asked Tarek to get him on the Tibyan forum; considered possible screen names “Abu Hassan” or “Abu Osama.”
  • Ali didn’t go on Tibyan much: “not a big poster”, but did post at least once. “Skipped through some” of the posts written by others; came to learn later that Tarek was thrown off the forum because his views were too moderate.
  • Tarek sent Ali a picture of the school in Yemen he wanted to attend (“primitive”, sleeping bags on the floor), library of Muqbil Binhadi Al-Wadi – one of the Salafis who was completely apolitical, issued a statement that he despised Bin Laden.
  • Tarek often read and was translating scholarly works; not always sending things about OBL and jihad, often sent things about hadith and religion.
  • Tarek looked to ancient scholars, Prophet Muhammed and his companions as role models.
  • Tarek told Ali to get “both the book of hadith and the book on ‘peanut butter and jelly,’;” were afraid to use the word “jihad” on the phone; but then this book on hadith was written 800 years ago, purely religious.
  • Often sent websites simply about religion and Quran.
  • Tarek would buy books from Egypt when he visited with his family; Ali was also interested in collecting books; they discussed online Islamic library that had books on sale, talked about a biography that was 28 volumes; Tarek – “I’m going to need a whole suitcase to bring that back from Egypt”
  • In another chat log, Tarek asked if Ali knows Yusuf Estes, the Christian priest who converted to Islam; Ali was the one who changed to subject of conversation to Zarqawi
  • Ali said he planned to spend the summer memorizing Quran and studying religion; asked Tarek to send him Quranic recitations available online; impressed by Mishari Rashid’s Quranic recitation at age 24
  • Video of beheading did not upset Ali “at the time”; no one ever said they should go participate in jihad after watching these videos; at the Grand Jury Ali said “I can’t recall a time where watching these videos led to them saying, ‘well, we have to actually get up and do something’.”
  • Expressed admiration of one of the hijackers who had memorized the entire Quran in 2 months and all of the collections of hadith; Tarek and Ali were both trying to memorize Quran
  • They talked about going to NYC and visiting a predominantly Muslim area in Queens with many Muslim bookstores and restaurants
  • Ali said he wanted to pray in Masjid Al-Farooq (where Abdullah Azzam had spoken when he came to the US) and he wanted to go to Ground Zero; they took several pictures throughout the course of the trip, mostly taken by Ibrahim
  • Ali and Tarek had index fingers raised in the picture meaning “One God”; JB – you have to admit, the site was “pretty powerful.”
  • The term jihad is used in the Quran, is a tenet of Islamic faith, and refers to how the Prophet and his companions were attacked when spreading Islam; “Jihad” refers to conflict between Muslims and others, including US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Janice: Tarek talked a lot about getting married and living in the Gulf à easier to be a Muslim in Saudi Arabia, where you can pray 5 times a day publicly (Ali: claims “you can do that here too”); Janice asks if Tarek told Ali about the job that he got at Al-Saud Medical Center, Auerhahn objects, Judge sustains objection
  • When asked by Janice, Ali replied he didn’t really know Dan Maldonado because they were never introduced;
  • Janice: Dan called Tarek from Somalia and wanted Tarek to join him, but Tarek didn’t go; Abu Samra went to Iraq, but Tarek didn’t go with him
  • Ali talked about his favorite Nasheed – “Oh mother oh mother, give me my machine gun”; not his favorite song anymore, JB quipped that “you’ve grown up, your views have changed, right, is that it?”
  • Tarek asked Ali if he was attending the poetry slam at MIT; The poem Ali read yesterday (11/3) “Make Martyrdom What You Seek” was implied during 11/3 examination to be written by Tarek post-9/11 and reflective of his extremist ideology; IN REALITY, HOWEVER, was written by Tarek when he was 18 and won 3rd place in the poetry slam – poem about a martyr; JB – In Islam someone who drowns can be considered a martyr, a woman who dies during childbirth can be a martyr (Ali responds “I guess, according to some very minor texts,”).
  • Tarek said the school in Yemen was “more like a camp”; JB asks if Ali is familiar with the word “mu’askar” (camp or encampment) and he says no he is unaware of its meaning.
  • Tarek said people there “walk around with guns and cameo jackets” à indicating that this was unusual; if this was a military training camp it would not be unusual; most people in Yemen own guns.
  • Tarek talked about going to religious schools in the Middle East; Ali said he would go too if he saved enough money; said $3000 is about what they would need to live there; they discussed going there to live, get married, get an apartment, etc.
  • Tarek didn’t speak openly about his trip to Yemen; never said he went to seek military training
  • Tarek said they had to make a promise to each other to “stay on this path, to continue to seek “ilm” (knowledge) until we die.” because Tarek believed it was a duty to seek knowledge of religion, not military training.
  • Tarek gave a sermon, “Remaining Firm in Your Religion” at the Sharon Mosque, during which he discussed the Rand Report, which classified different categories of Muslims and decided which ones “fit” in America, saying that Fundamentalists should be challenged on their interpretation of Islam and their ideas should be discouraged; government was saying they didn’t want Salafis in America; this upset Tarek and Ali
  • People at Sharon Mosque were largely conservative (politically, not religiously) and didn’t want this talk in their mosque.
  • In another chat log, Tarek expressed very strong excitement to Ali that Sheikh Yasir Qadhi wrote him a recommendation for Medina University, which is known for being very conservative religiously and politically (JB – “no jihadi views there”; Ali – “I guess, but there’s no way to be sure”).
  • Abu Samra went to Iraq, brought back picture of a man he met in Fallujah and showed it to Ali; Ali never mentioned this man to the Grand Jury
  • Ali’s father had open-heart surgery in 2008; Tarek visited him in the hospital and at home, told Ali he thought he was going to be arrested by the FBI; Ali got scared, disposed of and hid away incriminating “jihadi” materials, books, etc. including the OBL book
  • Janice – “Are you a little bit angry that associating with Tarek has gotten you into this legal trouble?” Ali – “Yes, I am angry.”

Janice–(turning towards jury), “I TOLD you so!” and then to Judge O’Toole: “No further questions.”

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4 Comments on “Day 9: Janice Bassil Cross-Examines Ali Aboubakr”

  1. Muslim November 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    Lol @ Ali.

    May Allah bless akh Tariq.Ameen.

  2. UmmAbdurrahman November 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    Thank you so much for these updates. I’m praying for brother Tarek today, and my husband and son are at Arafat praying for him as well. Waiting for justice to prevail, and for relief to come to this family!

  3. Boston Kip November 6, 2011 at 1:17 am #

    At one point Ali wasn’t able to remember some thing he had said the day before. Even when he reviewed the transcript he said some thing like “this was yesterday?”.

    I was left with the impression that he would say anything to keep the prosecutor happy.


  1. Updates: The Trial of Tarek Mehanna - Page 11 - November 5, 2011

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