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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Al Qaeda terrorist convicted for role in US army base attack

Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, who grew up in Dubai, was convicted of nine charges, including conspiring to murder Americans and supporting a foreign terrorist organisation

Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, an American citizen who grew up in Dubai, faces life in prison after being convicted for his role in an Al Qaeda attack on a US army base in Afghanistan in 2009. US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York / Handout via Reuters
Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, an American citizen who grew up in Dubai, faces life in prison after being convicted for his role in an Al Qaeda attack on a US army base in Afghanistan in 2009. US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York / Handout via Reuters

An American captured in Pakistan faces life in prison after being convicted for his role in an Al Qaeda attack on a US army base in Afghanistan in 2009.

A jury in New York took a little over 24 hours to convict Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, 31, who grew up in Dubai, of nine charges, including using explosives, conspiring to murder Americans and supporting a foreign terrorist organisation.

Farekh’s fingerprints were recovered from a massive car bomb that failed to detonate in the attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province.

Bridget Rohde, acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which brought the case, said: “The jury’s verdict on all nine counts of the indictment established Farekh’s responsibility for a violent attack on members of our armed forces, his efforts to murder Americans and his commitment to one of the world’s most infamous terrorist organisations.”

Prosecutors described how he was influenced by the radical teachings of Anwar Al Awlaki, an Al Qaeda propagandist, while a student in Canada. He and two friends left the University of Manitoba in 2007 to travel to Pakistan.

At one point he was believed to have risen to such a senior role in Al Qaeda, under the nomme de guerre of Abdullah Al Shami, that US officials considered adding him to a drone kill list.

He was eventually detained by Pakistani security forces in 2014 and handed to American agents a year later.

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Speaking outside the courthouse during the trial, his father insisted his son was innocent.

“The prosecutors have proved nothing,” said Mahmoud Al Farekh, who lives in Dubai. “I went to see him in Pakistan. He was sightseeing, a tourist. We went to look at a university.”

However, Farekh was convicted on all nine charges he faced when the jury delivered its verdict on Friday afternoon.

Judge Brian Cogan ordered him to return on January 11 for sentencing.

"We believe there were legal errors contributing to this conviction," said Al Farekh's attorney, David Ruhnke. "We will appeal."

William Sweeney, FBI assistant director, said criminals would be held accountable no matter where there crimes were committed.

“Today’s verdict is justice for the harm and destruction Al Farekh intended to cause when he conspired with others to bomb a US military base in Afghanistan,” he said.

Much of the evidence presented in court came from the attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman.

Two vehicles loaded with explosives were driven at the camp gates.

"The attack plan was evidently for the first vehicle to detonate at the gate so that the second vehicle - a truck following closely behind that was carrying significantly more explosive ordinance than the first vehicle - could enter FOB Chapman and detonate inside the base to maximise casualties and damage,” reads the government complaint against Farekh.

In the event, only the first detonated – injuring several Afghans, including a pregnant woman, but avoiding the worst of the devastation.

Investigators recovered more than 7500 lb of explosives from the second vehicle.

“The effect would have been catastrophic,” said Douglas Pravda, US assistant attorney, in his closing statement, explaining how the device would have had a range of more than 1000 metres.

He described how 18 sets of fingerprints, matching the suspect, were recovered from brown packing tape used to assemble the bomb.

In contrast, the defence said prosecutors had done nothing to prove Farekh’s whereabouts in the years after his departure from the University of Manitoba and that the fingerprint evidence did not mean he was responsible for assembling the bomb.

Jury deliberations were briefly halted on Thursday when it emerged than Farekh’s father had approached jury members as they left court in an elevator.

He complained that he had not had an opportunity to see his son in years. Defence lawyers said they feared jurors his words would prejudice the jury against their client, supporting the case that Farekh had cut ties with his family during the time he worked for Al Qaeda.

Mr Cogan ordered that four jurors be replaced by the remaining three alternates, and then instructed the 11-strong jury to begin its deliberations afresh.

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