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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Trial set to open of American-born Al Qaeda suspect from Dubai

US officials debated whether to kill Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh in a drone strike rather than capture him 

An American citizen accused of abandoning his birth nation to fight for Al Qaeda was to be put on trial Tuesday, in a case that hinges partly on fingerprints found on an unexploded bomb.

Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, who was born in Houston and raised in Dubai, was captured by security forces in Pakistan in 2014. His case has drawn extra attention because of reports that American officials had debated whether to try to kill him in a drone strike, a step almost never taken against US citizens. The administration of President Barack Obama ultimately decided to try for a capture and civilian prosecution instead.

Farehk, 31, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to murder US nationals, conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and other crimes. Most of the charges against Farehk stem from an attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost City, Afghanistan, on January 19, 2009, involving two vehicles rigged with explosives and driven by suicide bombers. An initial blast injured several Afghans, including a pregnant woman, but a much larger bomb failed to go off, sparing the lives of American soldiers.

Forensic technicians in Afghanistan recovered 18 of Farehks' fingerprints on adhesive packing tape used to bind the explosives on to the unexploded bomb, prosecutors said in a court filing. A jury was set to hear the evidence in opening statements at the trial in a federal court in Brooklyn.

Before Farekh's capture in Pakistan, the Pentagon nominated him for a kill list for terrorism suspects, with CIA officials also lobbying the White House to authorize his killing, according to a report in The New York Times. But the Department of Justice resisted, questioning whether he was a big enough player in the terror network to take the extraordinary step of killing an American citizen overseas without a trial.

President Donald Trump's administration has taken steps to give the CIA and the military more latitude to target and kill Al Qaeda and ISIL militants in places including Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan, without needing a presidential sign-off.

Attorney-general Jeff Sessions has argued that Guantanamo Bay, a US military base in Cuba, is the best place to try terror suspects, saying civilian courts give legal protections to which the accused are not entitled.

During his presidency, Barack Obamat tried to close down Guantanmo but in his election campaign, Republican Donald Trump, pledged to keep it open to "load it up with some bad dudes."