x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Trial of American on terror charges begins

An American citizen who has been in jail since last August made his first appearance before the Federal Supreme Court yesterday, facing charges of supporting terrorism.

ABU DHABI // An American citizen who has been in jail since last August made his first appearance before the Federal Supreme Court yesterday, facing charges of supporting terrorism. Naji Hamdan, 42, a naturalised American of Lebanese heritage, stands accused by the State Security public prosecution of promoting terrorism, funding a terrorist organisation and participating in the work of the group.

None of the alleged crimes, all believed to be connected to the violence in Iraq, were committed in the UAE. At the public hearing Justice Khalifa al Muhairi read the charges to Mr Hamdan,who pleaded not guilty to all counts. Mr Hamdan claimed that a confession presented to the court had been signed under duress. When asked to explain the nature of the pressure and who had applied it, Mr Hamdan said he had been "tortured", pointing to his back and feet to show where he claimed to have been hit. He added that he had been blindfolded and did not know who had allegedly tortured him.

Mr Hamdan denied he had any ties to Ansar al Sunna or al Qa'eda, to which he has been linked. Among the evidence the public prosecution has submitted to the court is a transcript of an online conversation Mr Hamdan allegedly had with an Ansar al Sunna member in 2003. Ansar al Sunna is a militant Islamic group with links to al Qa'eda, and which has been blamed for a series of bombings and other terrorist activities in Iraq.

Mr Hamdan denied the accusation, insisting the online conversation had not taken place. Mr Hamdan acknowledged openly making several donations to Al Taqwa, a Sunni banking network with alleged ties to al Qa'eda. "I donated tens of thousands of dollars, I'm not sure exactly how much," he said. His lawyer handed the judge a folder he said contained details of the donations. Mr Hamdan said he had sponsored the construction of two mosques in Hawthorne, California as well as an Islamic school.

He had lived in Los Angeles for 20 years with his family, and built an auto trading business that often took him back Lebanon. He moved to the UAE in 2006, and was arrested on August 26. Last week an American court rejected a request by Amnesty International to intervene in the case. Yesterday's hearing was attended by two observers from the US Embassy as well as Mr Hamdan's wife and brother, who had travelled from California.

The second hearing is scheduled for July 20. myoussef@thenational.ae jhume@thenational.ae