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Seattleite accused of ties to terror in custody
James Ujaama surrendered in Denver, family says
Tuesday, July 23, 2002
Federal agents in Denver yesterday took into custody a Seattle Muslim reportedly under investigation by the FBI for suspected ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network, his family members said.
James Ujaama, a Seattle author and activist well-known in the city's black community, surrendered to police and federal agents who had surrounded his aunt's red-brick home, relatives said.
FBI Special Agent Ray Lauer of the Seattle field office would neither confirm nor deny that the 36-year-old Ujaama had been taken into custody or arrested. An FBI official in Denver declined to comment, saying an announcement would be made this morning.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Floyd Short and Andy Hamilton, who handle terrorism prosecutions in Seattle, also declined to comment late yesterday. Because James Ujaama is from Seattle, his case would likely take place in U.S. District Court here after his transfer from Denver.
A neighbor of Ujaama's aunt, Richard Mertineit, said yesterday afternoon that police had the residential street blocked off.
"There were officers meandering around the street, and they had their guns pulled and aimed at the house," Mertineit said.
In Seattle, Ujaama's mother, Peggi Thompson, contacted the Seattle Post-Intelligencer yesterday to say that her son had been picked up. She got a phone call from another son, Mustafa, who also was in Denver and had been briefly detained.
"Everyone is in shock," Thompson said last night. "We don't know what we need to do now."
Thompson said she spoke with an FBI official who said her son had been picked up as a material witness after a federal warrant was issued by the Eastern District of Virginia. She said she was told he would go before a judge today.
Mustafa Ujaama said: "This had to happen. It's just part of the process. My brother had to get arrested. He's a martyr. A hero. The fall guy."
Family members said James Ujaama was taken to a detention center in the Denver area, a city where the brothers had spent their early years; Mustafa said he had moved into his aunt's house three months ago, but had been spending time in Seattle to take care of family matters.
Mustafa Ujaama had just arrived yesterday in Denver after driving from Seattle. About the time officers were surrounding the house where his brother was, Mustafa said he was in the parking lot of a strip mall.
"We went to get milk," Mustafa Ujaama said in a telephone interview. "Next thing we knew there were cops everywhere. They had their guns drawn and flashlights and everything. It was scary, just like the movies. They said they were going to keep us until my brother was arrested."
When Mustafa asked if he, his wife, Chakira, or a friend -- all of whom were in the same car -- were under arrest, he was told "No."
Back at the house, which is owned by James' aunt, James walked out without incident, his family said. Relatives said he didn't want any harm to come to four children -- the youngest 1 and 4 years old -- who were in the house at the time.
For a week, James Ujaama and Mustafa Ujaama have been linked in the media to a federal investigation of terrorism centered on a Seattle mosque.
Until yesterday, federal agents had made only one arrest and that man has yet to face any terrorism charges. Both Ujaama brothers have denied any links to terrorism.
"My brother and I are not terrorists," James Ujaama said in a seven-page statement released to the P-I on Friday. "and we should not have been charged in the media and harassed."
Mustafa Ujaama said in an interview with the P-I last week: "I'd never heard of al-Qaida until 9/11."
But media reports say a federal investigation has focused on the brothers and the now-defunct Dar-us-Salaam Mosque. Mustafa helped to found the mosque.
Among those who attended the mosque was Semi Osman, who is in federal custody. Osman is accused of filing false immigration papers and owning a gun whose serial number had been rubbed off, but doesn't face any terrorism charges.
The Los Angeles Times has reported that a confidential government report said Osman, a British citizen who says he is from Sierra Leone, was found to have instructions on poisoning water sources, papers by Abu Hamza al-Masri of London, a fundamentalist sheik, and "various other items associated with Islamic radicalism."
Al-Masri is thought to be an al-Qaida recruiter and is wanted in Yemen on terrorist charges.
Federal authorities also say they believe Osman and several Seattle Muslim radicals wanted to set up a terrorist-training camp on a ranch near Bly, Ore.
Mustafa Ujaama has acknowledged that he and others from the Seattle mosque visited the ranch. But heeding the advice of an attorney, he would not offer details.
Published reports attributed to unnamed federal agents have said James Ujaama delivered laptop computers to the Taliban before Sept. 11, associated with al-Masri and helped set up a Web site for him in England.
James and Mustafa Ujaama were born James Ernest and Jon Thompson. Their mother worked for a social service agency and got them involved in community activism.
Mustafa Ujaama, a mechanic and car salesman, converted to Islam several years ago, saying he was drawn to the religion's concept that "no middleman" stands between God and the faithful. His brother converted to Islam after moving to London six years ago.
Peggi Thompson said she was relieved that her son Mustafa was not taken into custody but is worried about James.
"This is all so unreal to me," she said. "It scares the hell out of me."
P-I reporter Scott Sunde contributed to this report