The patient Terrorist Was American-born Hassan Abujihaad plotting to attack a San Diego military base? A federal judge is deciding that now
(New Haven Advocate) Hassan Abujihaad calmly listened to recorded phone conversations in federal court last week, in which he offered assistance in an ill-conceived plot to attack a San Diego military base and then snipe off soldiers trying to escape the attack.
Abujihaad, an American born Paul Hall, was arrested March 7 in Phoenix, and indicted March 21 in Bridgeport on charges of material support of terrorism and disclosing previously classified information. In 2001, while in the Navy, Abujihaad allegedly emailed classified information about ships’ locations in the Middle East to Azzam Publications, a pro-jihad website hosted by a Connecticut company. This was months before 9/11. Abujihaad’s email said the U.S.S. Benfold, a Navy destroyer, would pass through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf on the night of April 21, 2001, when the ship would experience a communications blackout. During the blackout, Abujihaad wrote, “they have nothing to stop a small craft with RPG etc.” In another email he praised the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, saying “psychological warfare [was] taking a toll.”
In U.S. District Court in New Haven last week, government lawyers played dozens of recorded conversations between Abujihaad, his friend Derrick Shareef and an FBI informant, William “Jameel” Crisman.
Recorded conversations between the three are a curious mixture of American slang (dude, man, ol’ boy) and Islamic phrases that were translated for the judge and court reporter. (After the first day of testimony, the court reporter asked: “Sounds like enchilada?” The answer: Insha’ Allah, or God willing.)
Quirks aside, those conversations are alarming: They paint Abujihaad as a disgruntled Muslim American considering “defensive jihad.” He laughs at the thought of killing American soldiers and admires an Iraqi sniper video. There’s no real smoking gun in these conversations (although there is a semi-confession), but they reveal a paranoid would-be terrorist with a “consciousness of guilt.” The government’s lawyers are asking federal Judge Mark Kravitz to allow them to use these 2006 recordings in a jury trial about the 2001 email.
Evidence should keep the jury’s eye on the ball, says Jeffrey Meyer, a former federal prosecutor and Quinnipiac University law professor. That means the prosecution can’t introduce evidence unrelated to the offense, in this case the 2001 email of classified information. Kravitz will have to make a decision as to how far the prosecution can go: Do these taped conversations from 2006 illuminate Abujihaad’s mind-set and motivations or do they unnecessarily make him look like a scary guy? These tapes could strike fear in the jury and Kravitz will decide whether or not the public will get to hear them again.
In 2006, the FBI asked their informant, Crisman—a white Muslim—to befriend Shareef. They met and Shareef moved into Crisman’s Rockford, Ill., home. Right away Shareef began speaking against the government and alluding to jihad; Crisman began taping their conversations.
Shareef had an unstable childhood and moved to Phoenix in 2003 to be near his father. A recent and young convert to Islam, he was taken in by Abujihaad, who had been discharged from the Navy a year earlier. Abujihaad mentored the young Shareef: He helped Shareef get a GED, find a job and encouraged him to get his life in order. They also spoke about jihad.
In 2004, Shareef moved back to Illinois and fell out of touch with Abujihaad until 2006 when he wanted to revive their nebulous plan to attack a San Diego base.
Shareef, now 23, seemed eager and impatient; he wanted jihad now. Abujihaad—hesitant to participate in a hasty plan—repeatedly complained about Shareef’s inexperience and his talkative nature. Those complaints give Abujihaad’s attorneys a chance to question whether Shareef played up Abujihaad’s importance in the terrorism underworld to make himself look more tough.
Abujihaad, 31, has two children; he’s divorced and according to the FBI, he’s threatened to kill his ex [“You wanna fuck with my life?…I’ll fuckin’ make sure you die. Believe that.”]. Abujihaad is African American with very short hair and an equally short beard and mustache. Born Paul Hall, he legally changed his name to Abujihaad—literally, father of jihad.
In the recordings, amidst coded talk of jihad and buying illegal weapons, children are heard playing in the background. Abujihaad often cites his kids as one reason he needed to be cautious.
Soon after moving in, Shareef began telling the informant about his friend Abujihaad, his stint in the Navy and contacts with people connected to al Qaeda.
Abujihaad’s lawyers would like the judge to believe these conversations show Shareef, repeatedly described as a “loose cannon,” wanted to puff himself up. “[As an informant,] you’re lying to Mr. Shareef and you don’t know if he’s lying to you, isn’t that right?” defense attorney Robert Golger asked the informant. “You don’t know if he’s telling the truth or trying to impress you.”
Shareef spoke as though he and Abujihaad were “really tight,” Golger continued. “He led you to believe that he had this guy out in Phoenix and all he had to do [to carry out a terrorist attack] was call him.” But the two had barely seen each other in two years.
The FBI recorded conversations in which Shareef repeatedly called Abujihaad to ask for assistance for the San Diego attack. Shareef had nothing to lose; he was in his prime, he said. It would be better to attack now while young and without responsibilities. But Abujihaad was trying to support a family and stay off the government’s radar. After Shareef made a quick visit to Arizona to supposedly speak about their plans, he called Abujihaad to ask for planning help.
“Like I said, I’m suspect of the phone,” responded Abujihaad, who continued the conversation in code.
Abujihaad said he couldn’t provide a “hot meal”—recent intelligence—because by 2006 he’d been out of the Navy for four years. But Abujihaad mentioned a friend who’d recently left the military who “can give himself a hot meal … where he can eat a whole lot.” Then Shareef and Abujihaad both laughed like giddy kids.
Shareef became frustrated and impatient with Abujihaad. Shareef hatched his own plan to attack a suburban Chicago mall in December of 2006, during the Christmas shopping season.
Abujihaad’s lawyers claim Shareef’s frustration proves Abujihaad wasn’t serious about the San Diego attack (even though in recorded conversations Abujihaad asked for a left-handed AK 47 and said “patience” is a sniper’s heaven). The informant claims Shareef said, “waiting for Hassan and them, I’ll be waitin’ 20 years for jihad.”
For his mall plan, Shareef used the informant as a go-between to buy what he thought were illegal guns from an undercover officer. On Dec. 6, 2006 Shareef bought the guns and was arrested. (He pleaded guilty last week and could face life in prison.)
Two days later, the informant called Abujihaad to say Shareef had been arrested. Abujihaad immediately played dumb: “Look, I don’t even know nothin’. I’ll ditch your number or whatever.” Then Abujihaad said, “This is what I’m gonna say…Look, he came at me with some bullshit, I told him to get outta my face.”
The informant and Abujihaad worried that Shareef’s big mouth would get them in trouble. “Why the hell he still runnin’ around talkin’ shit?” wondered the informant. “‘Cuz he’s stupid,” replied Abujihaad. “Somebody just got paid off his dumb ass.”
Listening to himself in court, Abujihaad seemed to realize how prescient that comment was. He smiled, leaned toward one of his attorneys and pointed at Jameel Crisman, the informant who was sitting across from him, on the witness stand. Crisman was the one who’d been paid. For the two-and-a-half months he’d informed on Shareef and Abujihaad, Crisman says he received $8,500.
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