Skip to comments.'Sleeper cell' had S.D. ties, jury told [San Diego]
Posted on 06/11/2007 3:39:58 PM PDT by SJackson
'Sleeper cell' had S.D. ties, jury told
Clairemont resident is on trial in Miami
Years before three of the Sept. 11 hijackers set up shop in this corner of the country, a group of Muslim extremists in San Diego was raising money and recruiting fighters for a worldwide holy war, according to federal records and testimony that unfolded last week in a Miami courtroom.
Kifah Jayyousi As early as 1993, the FBI was wiretapping at least two San Diego men who agents suspected were members of a sleeper cell plotting terror strikes across the globe.
The government also was tracking money transfers and cash deposits to a series of nonprofit organizations run by the suspects, Mohammed Zaky and his apparent protege, Kifah Jayyousi.
Zaky, a translator who ran several businesses and the Save Bosnia Now nonprofit out of an office in La Jolla, was killed in Chechnya by Russian soldiers in 1995.
Jayyousi, a mechanical engineer who lived in San Diego for 10 or more years, is accused of following in Zaky's footsteps, collecting donations and sending money to support Muslim rebels across the Arabian peninsula.
Jayyousi, a Jordanian national who became a U.S. citizen, is on trial in federal court on charges including conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping and to provide support to terrorists.
Three times in the 1990s, Jayyousi wrote letters to the editor of The San Diego Union-Tribune in which he complained about news coverage of Islamic fundamentalists or opinion pieces published by the newspaper.
All the while, federal agents were taping his phone conversations and tracking thousands of dollars he transferred from account to account.
Jayyousi, a longtime Clairemont resident, and his alleged co-conspirators operated and participated in a recruiting and fundraising network to send money, physical assets and individuals to overseas conflicts for the purposes of fighting violent jihad and supporting a terrorist agenda, the criminal complaint states. Joining Jayyousi at the defendants' table in Miami is Adham Hassoun, who is accused of directing the East Coast portion of the terror cell, and Jose Padilla, a former gang member from Chicago who was declared an enemy combatant by President Bush and held for years on suspicion of planning to explode a radioactive dirty bomb.
Padilla was added to the Florida case after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the suspect could not be held indefinitely as an enemy combatant. All three men face the possibility of life in prison if they are convicted.
'Overt act' Jayyousi, 45, apparently arrived in the United States in the early 1980s, applying for and receiving a Social Security card in New York City in 1983 or 1984, according to records. He moved to San Diego in the mid-1980s and became a father when his wife delivered twin boys, Mohammed and Karem, birth records show. The family later settled in a four-bedroom house in Lemon Grove.
Kifah and Hedaya Jayyousi sold the house in 1993 and moved to the smaller home in Clairemont, a few blocks west of the Islamic Center of San Diego, the largest mosque in the county.
In October 1993, Kifah Jayyousi opened a bank account in the name of Islamic Group, according to the federal indictment handed down in Florida. Investigators labeled it an overt act.
About the same time, the indictment said, Jayyousi founded the American Islamic Group and began publishing The Islamic Report, a newsletter promoting violence as a religious obligation.
After Zaky was killed by Russian soldiers, Jayyousi took over operations at the American Worldwide Relief Organization, a tax-exempt charity Zaky set up that federal officials claim was a front for supporting terror activities.
Jayyousi actively recruited mujahideen fighters and raised funds for violent jihad, the indictment states.
One of the prosecution witnesses testifying last week was Jeremy Collins, 33, a Muslim convert from San Diego who volunteered at the American Worldwide Relief Organization, then later took over the agency.
According to testimony, Jayyousi used the tax-exempt organization to funnel money and supplies to Chechen rebels in the mid-1990s. Collins told the jury he began distancing himself from the organization after he decided it was more about fomenting violence than helping struggling people.
There was no relief work, The Associated Press quoted Collins as saying. There seemed to be more fighting than relief work.
Collins testified last week that he grew suspicious of Jayyousi and American Worldwide Relief after one of Collins' associates returned from Chechnya without part of his leg after he was injured in a land-mine explosion.
Collins shares the same age and surname with a well-known former San Diegan who converted to Islam and became involved with suspected terrorists, and who lost part of his leg in a Chechen explosion.
Aukai Collins, who grew up in Ocean Beach before joining ranks with Muslim fighters in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and other trouble spots, renounced violence and published a book in 2002 detailing his activities. The former FBI informant claims in his memoir, My Jihad, that he tried repeatedly to warn federal agents that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were pending.
Coded words During the course of their investigation, federal agents recorded 300,000 conversations between Jayyousi, Hassoun and other suspected terrorists including numerous talks that prosecutors say appear to show support for rebel Muslims. Prosecutors last week began playing more than 120 of the taped conversations for the jury.
In 1996, Jayyousi asked Hassoun to look for an open window for the Chechens, meaning an opportunity for us to come over and do something for the Chechens, the indictment states.
The defendants relied on coded words to communicate terror activities and steered thousands of dollars to various causes and programs over the eight years they were watched, prosecutors said.
Playing football was code for waging jihad; tourists were holy warriors; and smelling fresh air translated to visiting a new location for the purpose of promoting violence.
In a 2004 affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent John Kavanaugh in support of the warrant for Jayyousi's arrest, Jayyousi is described as a follower of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is in federal custody after his conviction for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and is suspected in numerous terror attacks.
In his newsletter, Jayyousi referred to the prosecution of Abdel-Rahman as the U.S. v. Islam, Kavanaugh wrote. Jayyousi described (American Islamic Group) as 'the voice of the mujahideen.'
San Diego FBI agents declined to discuss the case against Padilla, Jayyousi and Hassoun, citing the ongoing trial in Florida.
They also declined to talk about the apparent existence of terror cells operating in San Diego long before 2001. Three of the Sept. 11 hijackers Khalid Al-Midhar, Nawaf Alhamzi and Hani Hanjour had shared an apartment in Clairemont before they crashed an American Airlines jet into the Pentagon.
One person deeply suspicious of the government's case against Padilla and his co-defendants in Miami is San Diego attorney Randall Hamud, who has represented local Muslims in numerous cases.
Hamud pointed out there is no law against sending money to Chechnya, and noted that Padilla was never charged with trying to detonate a dirty bomb. Government officials have defined terrorism much too broadly in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Hamud said.
The feds are basically calling every Muslim who might disagree with their policies a terrorist that's the problem, he said. If these men were doing something wrong in the 1990s, why weren't they arrested then?
The South Florida trial is expected to continue into August.
Where are these guys being held?
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