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Day 23: Direct of Kareem Abu-Zahra Continued


**The following is a narrative of the testimony of Cooperating Witness/Informant Kareem Abu-Zahra. While listening, we picked up on many inconsistencies between his testimony and the testimony of witnesses who have come before. Whether this testimony proves partially, or wholly, factually inaccurate remains to be seen. **

Chakravarty began his line of questioning immediately by reminding the court and the witness, Kareem Abu-Zahra (KAZ),
that they had left off discussing the “domestic attacks” KAZ had mentioned the day before. The witness agreed that the group of friends had a “continued sense of urgency to do something” following the US invasion of Iraq, but could not find a way into the country to participate in the resistance against the occupation. He said that Ahmad Abu-Samra (AAS) had made contact with someone named “Abu Muthana” (via an online forum; as you may recall, this refers to Jason Pippin who testified earlier) who could help them to pursue military training in Yemen. Near the end of 2003, AAS traveled to California, where Abu Muthana resided, to meet in person rather than discuss the matter online. Chakravarty asked if the friends had been “security conscious” online, to which KAZ responded that he had been at the time, but that AAS and Tariq were not to the same degree. When asked if Abu Muthana had another online handle, KAZ initially did not remember, but eventually recalled that his other name was “Abu Umar”, which was not used online but was a “konya” (a nickname, usually referring to one’s first born child; “Abu” means “father of”).

AAS said that Abu Muthana had studied in Yemen before and could provide them with contacts there who could help them get into a training camp and, eventually, into Iraq. KAZ couldn’t remember who the contact he provided was, but said it was “a name scribbled on a piece of paper” and the name of a town (Al-Mukalla), without a phone number or any further information. Skeptical about the ill-conceived nature of the plan, KAZ asked AAS if he was sure that this was “legit”, asking why Abu Muthana would not be joining them on their trip. AAS responded that Abu Muthana planned to follow them once he obtained enough money to secure his family’s financial situation. KAZ offered to provide the money
so that this man, whom he had never met and only knew of through an internet forum, could come with them to Yemen. Apparently Abu Muthana (or Abu Umar) agreed to this, but no explanation was provided as to why he never ended up going. KAZ withdrew $5,000 for this purpose, but didn’t think he gave it all to AAS (to give to Abu Umar); he couldn’t recall the exact amount, but said it was definitely over $1,000 (meanwhile, Abu Umar, or Jason Pippin, earlier testified that he received $5,000 from AAS).

The prosecution then asked if Abu Umar had discussed a potential cover story. KAZ said no, not that he could recall, but that the trio (AAS, KAZ, and Tariq) had discussed two cover stories – the first, for the visa application (KAZ wrote tourism), and the second was that they planned to attend an Arabic language or Islamic school. When asked if they seriously expressed interest in attending these schools, KAZ replied, “not seriously, no.” He also said that AAS had printed out information from the website of “Dar Al-Mustafa,” an Islamic school in Yemen, to be used as proof of their story when questioned by authorities. They had planned to leave on Feb. 1st or 2nd of 2004, which was also a Muslim holiday
(Eid), and Super Bowl Sunday. KAZ testified that they agreed to tell the cover story to “everybody,” with nobody else being aware of the “truth” except for Hassan Masood and Abu Muthana.

Chakravarty: “Did you ever have a discussion about the proper ways to lie?”

KAZ: “Yes. We searched online for tips, practiced interrogating each other by pretending to be someone in authority.”

Chakravarty asked why KAZ had suggested that Tarek and AAS were not as “security conscious” online as he had been, and he said it was because of the candidness in their “online dealings”, the nature of the material they posted; the only cautious behavior they had exhibited was when AAS traveled to California to meet with Abu Muthana (Abu Umar) instead of discussing matters online. KAZ, on the other hand, said that he was not open about jihad online, and was often careful about what he posted. The prosecution then showed a question posted by AAS on the web forum Clear Guidance a week before their trip, regarding the permissibility of traveling for jihad while one’s parents are ill, and responses by “Abu Dujanah” (who KAZ identified as a “brother in London”) and Abu Sabaaya (Tariq). KAZ testified that he took independent steps to prepare for the trip, including moving his assets to a different bank account (one with his wife’s name on it, so that his family would be protected in case the government froze his assets), purchasing a backpack and toiletries, in addition to “preparing physically” with the others by going on a hike one day at the Blue Hills Reservation. The prosecutor showed various checks of the transactions and deposits KAZ made during that time, including around $6,000 – $7,000 withdrawn
for plane tickets, a $5,000 check given to AAS for his California trip, as well as money transferred from one account to another. Photocopies of the visas they obtained were also shown. KAZ also gave money to Daniel Maldonado for a trip to Saudi Arabia, where he had gotten a job, “for the sole purpose of helping him move to a Muslim country” (to make “hijra). Pressed on this, he repeated that it was merely “to help someone in need” – a religious duty that one is rewarded for (Oh, the benevolence!).

So, to recap: KAZ, a family man with a wife and two children, employed as a computer programmer, had enough spare cash to pay for multiple overseas trips – doling it out to Dan Maldonado, Abu Muthana (a man he had never met), AAS, and paying for three plane tickets to Yemen. He said that he couldn’t remember how much money he had withdrawn for his trip, but that they divided it among the three of them evenly so that it would not need to be declared to customs officials at the airport. “To the best of my recollection, together we had around $12-13,000 total.”

KAZ had also bought the return tickets, about 2-3 weeks from the departure date, because “one-way tickets to Yemen would look suspicious”, and so that, in case it didn’t work out, they could return, seeing as it was a poorly planned trip from the outset. KAZ didn’t have the intention of telling his family what was going on, and said he made a video for his kids to watch when he was gone, “in case I didn’t come back…we were going for war, and people don’t always come back from war”. He hid this video in a discrete location at his parents’ house, where it wouldn’t be found unless they were moving. He would tell his family to watch it after he successfully got to Iraq. This, of course, never happened.

On Super Bowl Sunday, 2004, KAZ, AAS, and Tarek met at Tarek’s house, where Tarek’s brother was also present. Hassan Masood came later. The plane tickets had been shipped to Tarek’s address. KAZ was bringing his newly purchased backpack filled with his belongings. “The defendant”, as KAZ affectionately referred to his former best friend, wrote a note to his parents, which he gave to his brother Tamer, along with a bag filled with “mostly paperwork”, then hugged Tamer goodbye.

Chakravarty: “What was this paperwork?”

KAZ: “I don’t wanna use the word ‘incriminating’…but, stuff he wanted to get rid of. Like a document downloaded from the internet about how to make a bomb, and other stuff of that nature.”

Both KAZ and AAS had children, though AAS had recently been divorced. Neither of them informed their families of their plans.

KAZ: “I remember saying to him (Tarek), ‘that’s not something you give someone else to get rid of. You get rid of it yourself.”

Chakravarty: “And what did he say?”

KAZ: “He said, ‘don’t worry about it’.”

KAZ said he “zoned out” during the drive to the airport, failing to recall much of the conversation and describing the mood as “very somber” (the same term used by previous cooperating witness Hassan Masood during his testimony) because he was leaving his family and didn’t know whether he would see them again. Again, he reiterated that the only other people who knew the “truth” about the purpose of their trip were Hassan Masood, who couldn’t go because of visa issues, and Abu Muthana. What was the purpose of the trip? “To fight jihad.” (This question and answer pair was repeated countless times throughout the day, well-rehearsed but not so subtle.) At Logan airport the three were questioned by a TSA agent and a state trooper regarding the purpose of their trip. They said they were going to study Arabic. KAZ “kinda got the feeling that he (the TSA agent) knew, but couldn’t stop us”. He was the first to board the plane, because Tarek and AAS were stopped again by another agent who counted their money before they boarded. The itinerary for the trip was Boston London Bahrain Abu Dhabi Yemen.

Chakravarty: “Over the course of the trip, did the defendant say anything?”

KAZ: “Yes. Either in Bahrain or Abu Dhabi, I don’t remember. He said, “we’re finally doing it”.

Chakravarty: “And what did you take that to mean?

KAZ: “That we had been talking about participating in jihad for so long and now we were finally putting it into action.”

In Abu Dhabi, they stayed in a hotel. KAZ went for a walk and found an internet café, which they would use the next day to check their emails. KAZ said that he had received two emails from his family –one stating that his father was sick and that he should come back (this is the same family that had not been told anything about his plans or whereabouts), and the second stating that he was needed to sign his newborn child’s passport. In light of the news, KAZ decided to return home. He took some of the money, leaving most of it with AAS and Tarek “because they were continuing on to fight jihad” (let’s see how many times we can fit the word ‘jihad’ into one sentence!), and exchanged bags with AAS because his was “more suitable for what they were about to go through…more rugged.” KAZ suggested that they, especially AAS, may not have entirely believed him, but said “if you have to go, you have to go”. Chakravarty then showed an email from KAZ to his brother Hilal, sent from Tarek’s email

address. He “didn’t recall” why he sent it from Tarek’s account. They also showed an email from Tarek to his brother Tamer, reassuring him that he is safe and not to worry his parents, who were apparently traveling at the time. After spending 3-4 days in Abu Dhabi and visiting relatives he had there, KAZ returned to the US, where he was again questioned at the airport. He said that he went to study but came back because his father fell ill. AAS had given him the print-out from the Dar Al-Mustafa website, which he showed authorities.

KAZ said that he maintained the “cover story” with everyone he talked to, including his family, saying that he went to study and not elaborating any further, partially in case his family was ever questioned by authorities. After returning to the US, KAZ met with Tarek’s father at the Mehannas’ home to return a briefcase that Tarek had asked him to return. Tarek’s father and cousin were present, as well as a family friend. KAZ described Tarek’s father and cousin as being “very adamant and aggressive” in questioning the whereabouts of Tarek. He responded only that Tarek was in Yemen, but claimed that the family members never asked why he was in Yemen. According to KAZ, Tarek returned to the US within 1-2 months, but that he did not make any effort to contact Tarek, because his family had “forbidden” him to talk to AAS and Tarek, and that both their families had wanted to keep the young men apart. KAZ had begun to minimize contact with his former best friends, but saw Tarek briefly at a gathering, where he asked about the trip. Tarek allegedly responded, “there was nothing there”.

After that the two men saw each other a “handful of times”, at dinner parties or at the mosque, but they did not resume the relationship they had before the trip. KAZ maintained an online presence on forums like Clear Guidance, but minimized and eventually cut off all contact with Tarek, deleting him from his msn chat list following an “inflammatory status update”. KAZ was “under the assumption that he was being investigated” and didn’t want to be associated with Tarek and AAS.

KAZ: “I was done with that. My mindset had changed.”

After returning, AAS insisted on meeting KAZ at UMass Lowell, where he worked, accompanied by Dan

Maldonado and Dan Spalding. They went to the student parking lot to talk privately about the details of the trip. AAS explained that he “found nothing in Yemen”, so he spent some time in Jordan, then took a bus from Jordan to Iraq, where he found a “group of people who were fighting…called ‘Sufis’. But they didn’t let him do anything, so he stayed for two weeks and came back.” The two spoke in front of Maldonado, but left Spalding in the car, as he was fairly new to the group and not part of the “inner circle”. KAZ couldn’t recall any further contact with AAS after that encounter. KAZ said that his views of jihad had changed by 2006 – that he believed in jihad in an academic/intellectual sense, but that the actions of movements like Al-Qaeda no longer seemed correct to him. He spoke about the group’s feelings on 9/11, saying they had been “trying to suppress their smiles”, and shared views about why the attacks were justified. Chakravarty then showed several emails from Tarek regarding 9/11. Carney objects to the selective reading of sentences within the emails, arguing that the principle of “verbal completeness” dictates that the whole thing should be read. Chakravarty is shut down and drops the document, moving on. He asks KAZ about the Islamic principle of “collective duty”, duties incumbent upon the entire Muslim nation, versus “individual duty” (which KAZ calls “fardayn”). KAZ once again reiterated that after the US invasion of Iraq, they saw the US as being at war with Islam and saw US soldiers as valid targets, admitting that the internet played a role in fueling these views.

KAZ said that the online forum “Islamic Networking” (IN) had been “toned down” during this time, with the Jihadi material that was removed from IN “found its home on Tibyan”. When asked whether he had been a member of the Tibyan forum, KAZ could not recall – “to the best of my knowledge, I was not. But it was possible”. Surprising, considering that up until this point, he had been able to recall events, conversations, statements, transactions, and other minute details from 2002, with little to no hesitation.

After the break, the prosecutor asked KAZ to describe what constituted Jihadi videos – “scenes of training, combat, etc., sometimes showing statements by generals, scholars…” His purpose for watching them, he said, was for their “informational value”, to get the “other side of the story, not just one-sided reports”. He said that in 2002-2004, they watched these videos together on average once a month, at Tarek’s house or elsewhere. He said that Tarek had ordered a video from Azzam Publications, but that KAZ himself had never ordered anything online “as a precautionary measure”.
Next: the now-infamous “State of the Ummah” video. Clips are shown of children in some unidentified country “training” (on monkey bars and obstacle courses) and OBL speeches. KAZ remembers watching this video but “can’t recall the effect it had on him”. He stated that AAS always had more “extreme views,” and that he (KAZ) and Tarek sometimes dissented, disagreeing on issues such as “martyrdom operations”. Prosecution attempts to show an email in Arabic – Carney objects, and prosecution is once again shut down.

KAZ said that he hung out with Tarek and AAS on average once a week, and that Hassan Masood often joined them. He said that they asked Masood about the kind of training in Pakistan – physical training, small arms training – but did not discuss it in a “specific, actionable sense”. Masood said an easy way to obtain a visa to the country was to pretend they were attending a wedding and “print out a wedding invitation”. AAS took two trips to Pakistan. During the first, his father called Tarek to ask about his son’s whereabouts. Once again, KAZ in his selfless generosity, provided AAS with the money he needed for his Pakistan trip, but AAS came back unsuccessful. According to KAZ, AAS had met someone named Abu Majid on a bus in Pakistan who took him to the various training camps and tried to help him get in, but they weren’t taking foreigners because of the Pakistani government’s crackdown on training camps following 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan. The group of friends started jokingly referring to Abu Majid as “John”, and the name eventually stuck. AAS then “met someone from Al-Qaeda or the Taliban and tried to join them but they wouldn’t take him without training.” What AAS’s escapades have to do with Tarek is never addressed (guilt by association?).

Moving on, KAZ said that he had continued to maintain a web presence in 2006, as the moderator of the “Islamic Networking” forum. His forum handle was “Prof.” Chakravarty then showed chats between Tarek and Abu Mundhir where the latter is bashing “Prof” for deleting posts related to jihad from the forum. KAZ maintained that as the moderator, he had the responsibility of “deleting any posts inciting violence. So…jihad.”

In August of ’06, the FBI approached KAZ and asked about his trip to Yemen; after obtaining a lawyer, KAZ met with the Feds and the US attorney’s office a number of times. Years later, he testified before a grand jury, having met with the Feds to go over the questions to be asked and prepare his testimony. He also met with them numerous times to discuss his testimony in this case. After signing the initial immunity agreement with the government, KAZ was asked to cooperate “proactively” – meaning that he was asked to wear a recording device.

Chakravarty: “Did you have original internal strife about that?”

KAZ: “Yes. I originally signed an agreement to tell the truth…nothing wrong with telling the truth. But
going out and gathering evidence was a different story.”

Chakravarty: “Did you have reservations because of your religious beliefs?”

KAZ: “Religiously, and on a personal level. We used to be best friends.”

KAZ was told by the FBI that if he didn’t wear a wire, everything he said would be used against him. They asked him to set up a meeting with Tarek and AAS to discuss the trip to Yemen, which KAZ would secretly record. He recorded meetings with the two men about 4 or 5 times, as well as phone calls to set up meetings. The prosecution then played several audio clips of a conversation that took place in AAS’s basement, after KAZ had set up the meeting to discuss the Yemen trip and the subsequent investigation. Clips were, for the most part, inaudible and muffled (the jury and defense team were provided with transcripts of the audio), making it difficult to ascertain the exact content of the conversation. The recordings included the voices of AAS’s father, as well as AAS, KAZ, and, to a much lesser degree, Tarek, who seemed to be participating minimally in the conversation. Daniel Spalding joined the gathering later. Once again, AAS was the primary subject of the evidence. He discussed his meeting with the FBI and what he told them about his travels. The three friends could be heard making jokes and laughing, with KAZ asking questions, prying for details, directing the conversation with astonishing ease and comfort, sans anxiety or angst. The ideal informant.

Court was adjourned for the day at 1 pm. Prosecution will pick up tomorrow morning with more audio recordings. Stay tuned for cross-examination by Jay Carney.

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