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Day 22: Beginning of direct examination of Kareem Abu-Zahra


Today got off to a slow start as the government continued with “reader” FBI agent Dan Genck (DG) as soon as the jury entered the courtroom. Jeffery Auerhahn (JA) went through several chats and emails between Tarek and various individuals. In her cross examination, Janice Bassil (JB) made the point that there was no indication that Tarek translated any of the documents in the emails, aside from one piece. Much of the morning’s testimony was similarly unrelated to Tarek or the indictment against him.

The prosecution re-called two FBI linguists, Leah Valle (LV) and Ann Marie Dersonian (AMD), who had, since their testimony a few weeks ago, done verbatim translations of some documents found in Tarek’s room. Aloke Chakravarty (AC) asked LV to confirm that the several items he displayed were fair and accurate verbatim translations that she had done. The translations ranged from individual words and phrases within chats and emails to the titles of some nasheeds to paragraphs selected from much longer documents. Items included a piece by Al Zawahiri – “Loyalty & Enmity” (Dec. 2002), a forwarded email with the subject “Letter from a mujahid in Iraq to anyone who asks about jihad in Iraq”, an Abu Layth video, the cover of “Sawt Al-Jihad” magazine, and portions of “Al-Faruq Battalions” information reports from Iraq. AC and LV also spent some time going back and forth as they read chats in which Tarek and other individuals discussed a “Texas BBQ” video about the retaliation against 2 US soldiers in response to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, the killing of her family and burning of her home.

JB then established in cross examination that it was not Tarek that first used the term “Texas BBQ” when speaking about the video. “I don’t know who started it,” LV explained. “Exactly. That’s my point, you don’t know who started it,” JB responded. She then addressed a word that LV had translated as “westerner,” when in reality the literal translation is “Roman.” LV had previously stated that she had debated about which word to go with and in the end felt that “westerner” would cause less confusion. JB closed her questioning after confirming that LV only translated portions of documents hand-selected by the prosecution: “What the jury has seen is the portions that the US Attorney’s Office asked you to translate.”AC then called AMD to the stand to read the titles and few portions of the items that she translated that the FBI found in Tarek’s room. In the cross examination, JB again pointed out that the translations were only small portions of much larger documents, in some cases only the headers within the documents, as well as the fact that these portions were selected by the prosecution. These 3 witnesses took 3 hours, and, as usual, it was unclear what point the prosecution was trying to make with these witnesses.
Kareem Abu-Zahra
Finally, the highly-anticipated moment came. AC called the pivotal informant, Kareem Abu-Zahra (KAZ), who has been cooperating with the government since October of 2006. He was first approached by the FBI in August of 2006 and, fearing that he may himself be facing charges, he signed an immunity order to cooperate. AC began by questioning KAZ about his background, his family, where he lives and works, etc. In short, KAZ stated that he is Palestinian, has a wife and 2 kids, lives in Lynnfield, MA and is studying for his PHD, working in computer engineering. He explained that in 2001-2002 he went back and forth to Jordan for marriage and that his intention was to live and work in Jordan. He briefly worked in Qatar before returning to Jordan and the US.AC then directed his questioning to the point when KAZ was approached by the FBI in August 2006. KAZ agreed that he did not tell the FBI the truth at first when they asked him about the Yemen trip. He said that the real purpose of the trip was to find a “terrorist training camp” to “eventually get into Iraq”, but that the “cover story” that he told the FBI, as well as the Customs officers at the airport, was to find Arabic and Islamic schools. When asked about what he told other community members, he stated that he did not talk to anyone in the community about the trip. KAZ said that he wasn’t concerned about the FBI interrogation until he and his wife were stopped at the Canadian Border, where he was questioned for about 4 hours, on their way back into the US after a short vacation. This incident prompted him to get a lawyer and soon after he met with the FBI and US Attorney’s Office. AC then displayed a copy of the immunity agreement offered by the government and asked KAZ what he understood his obligation to be under the agreement. “To cooperate with the government in this case,” he responded, with the understanding that the information he provides will not be used against him.The questioning then moved onto KAZ’s relationship with Tarek and AAS. KAZ stated that he knew Tarek from childhood as a family friend, that they’d see each other at dinner parties and play as kids. He said that they began to re-establish a friendship in 2000 when they ran into each other at a mosque and realized that they were both at a point of embracing Islam more seriously. They met up about once a week on average and would discuss religion, current events, daily occurrences, etc. He said that he eventually formed a close relationship with AAS and they too hung out about once a week. The topic of jihad did not come up initially, he said. KAZ also mentioned Hassan Massod (HM) as someone who was a part of his inner circle of friends, which included Tarek and AAS. According to KAZ, within this inner circle of friends they discussed jihad in more depth than they would with others, the “virtues of it…desire to participate…and on an academic level as well…fighting for the sake of God.” The group of friends stayed in touch while KAZ was in Jordan, he said, via occasional emails. AC then shows a couple emails from Tarek to KAZ, AAS, and HM. The emails included joking poems in response to the “War on Terror”, the Northern Alliance, and invading US soldiers. Although JC requested that AC read the poems as well as the emails Tarek sent, AC claimed that he didn’t want to “waste time,” a statement in direct contrast with how he and Auerhahn conducted court sessions in the earlier part of the day.AC then asked about KAZ’s mindset about US military when he went to Jordan. He responded that he had no opinion of the US military pre 9/11. He felt like the post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan was an unjustified attack on a Muslim nation. He also said that he celebrated the attacks on 9/11 and saw it as a “David & Goliath” situation after America had pushed everyone around for so long. KAZ explained that his circle of friends was wary about talking about jihad outside their inner circle because of the Patriot Act and the fact that many Muslims were being tried all the time. He mentioned that some Muslims in Virginia were arrested for playing paintball. AC asked if KAZ, AAS and Tarek shared a particular mindset. “You could say that,” he responded. “A Salafi ideology.” He claimed that AAS said, “we’re salafi jihadis now.” AC asked if KAZ had friends who were not Salafi Muslims. He said he did, but that after returning from Jordan he was not as close with them.AC asked more about the thoughts and conversations about jihad among his circle of friends. He said that prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, they talked about jihad around the world, like Chechnya and Kashmir. They had a remote desire to participate, he said, but took no active steps to pursue that desire. He stated that the US invasion of Iraq changed things. The US was once again attacking a Muslim nation. There was no justification. This was now clearly a “war on Islam.” KAZ stated that they then felt, “we have to defend our faith.” AC questioned how he knew Tarek and AAS’s views. He responded that they had conversations and talked about it. He said that they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves and agreed when AC asked if they made “efforts to shield conversation.” It seems that the government was asking about whether KAZ talked to the community about his trip to Yemen and about this “inner circle” in order to try to undermine the credibility of the defense witnesses from the community, claiming that these people didn’t know about the group’s plans because they were not in the “inner circle.”

KAZ claimed that the group discussed domestic attacks and debated whether or not it was permissible to target civilians. He said that they considered a mall shooting, attacking an air force base and targeting political leaders, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The mention of Rice was a rumination when AAS wrote on a paper, “imagine if somebody shot her” upon hearing that she would be in Boston. No discussion followed, no action was taken. It was a joke, “fantasizing” at most, yet the government presented as the beginnings of a plot. KAZ also claimed that they discussed a mall plot “to create terror” (which couldn’t have sounded more like a spoon-fed line). He said that they discussed “potential logistics” 2-3 times, including who they could recruit, situating people at different exits, what to do when first responders showed up, obtaining guns, etc. KAZ alleged that Daniel Maldonado (DM) was a former gang member and stated that he went to see DM to see if he would be able to obtain guns for them. According to KAZ, DM said he could get guns but that they would have already been used in a crime so they wouldn’t be safe due to tracking. KAZ said he told DM, “its better if you don’t know” when DM asked why they needed the guns. He stated that the group collectively dropped the plan because the guns were “only handguns, hassle to reload, etc.” He also said they had a conversation about attacking a military base, but that they did not take it to a higher level. Judge O’Toole called the court to recess. Testimony will pick up again tomorrow.

Please join us in court! There are at most four trial days left for the prosecution to present their case: they will be important days! Let’s show Tarek our support. We will be at Moakley Courthouse in Boston 9am-1pm, Monday through Friday. Email freetarek@gmail.com for more details.

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  1. Updates: The Trial of Tarek Mehanna - Page 30 - November 29, 2011

    […] Updates: The Trial of Tarek Mehanna FT update's in! Day 22: Beginning of direct examination of Kareem Abu-Zahra Today got off to a slow start as the […]

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