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United States v. Kassir

September 11, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
OUSSAMA KASSIR, A/K/A "ABU ABDULLAH," A/K/A "ABU KHADIJA," DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John F. Keenan, United States District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

Before the Court is convicted Defendant Oussama Kassir's ("Defendant" or "Kassir") motion for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure or, alternatively, for a new trial pursuant to Rule 33. For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

At trial, the Government offered evidence in support of two sets of charges against Defendant. First, the Government offered evidence that Kassir trained young men for jihad in the Pacific Northwest at both a Seattle mosque and a camp site in Bly, Oregon (the "Jihad Training Charges"). For this conduct, Kassir was charged with conspiracy to provide and conceal material support and resources to terrorists, 18 U.S.C. § 2339A (Count One*fn1 ); providing and concealing material support and resources to terrorists, 18 U.S.C. § 2339A (Count Two); conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, 18 U.S.C. § 2339B (Count Three); providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, 18 U.S.C. § 2339B (Count Four); conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim, and injure persons in a foreign country, 18 U.S.C. § 956(a) (Count Five).

Second, the Government offered evidence that, after leaving the United States and returning to Sweden, where he is a citizen, Kassir operated a network of terrorist websites known as the "Islamic Media Center" ("IMC"), which distributed jihadi propaganda and instructions on how to build bombs and manufacture poisons, among other things (the "Terrorist Websites Charges"). For this conduct, Kassir was charged with conspiracy to provide and conceal material support and resources to terrorists, 18 U.S.C. § 2339A (Count Six); providing and concealing material support and resources to terrorists, 18 U.S.C. § 2339A (Count Seven); conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, 18 U.S.C. § 2339B (Count Eight); providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, 18 U.S.C. § 2339B (Count Nine); conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim, and injure persons in a foreign country, 18 U.S.C. § 956(a) (Count Ten); distributing information relating to explosives, destructive devices, and weapons of mass destruction, 18 U.S.C. § 842(p)(2)(A) (Count Eleven).*fn2

During the three-week trial, the Government offered extensive evidence in support of both sets of charges. The Court discusses the evidence only insofar as it is relevant to this decision.

In support of the Jihad Training Charges, the Government called cooperating witness James Ujaama ("Ujaama"), a U.S. citizen. Ujaama testified that he was the one who initially came up with the idea of starting a jihad training camp in Bly, Oregon. (Tr.*fn3 1281:11-13.) He further testified that, in creating the camp, he conspired with Kassir; Abu Hamza, a British imam; Haroon Aswat ("Aswat"), Kassir's travel companion to the Pacific Northwest; and Semi Osman, a Seattle-based imam. Ujaama stated that Kassir's role was to be that of "the trainer." (Id. at 1281:7-10, 1281:14-17.) According to Ujaama, Kassir admitted as much shortly after arriving in the Pacific Northwest:

Q: Did Mr. Kassir say anything to you at any point in Seattle-Tacoma or in the Bly ranch as to what his intentions were for the Bly property?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: What did he tell you?

A: He told me that Abu Hamza had sent him, and that he asked me about the recruits.

Q: Did he say why Abu Hamza had sent him?

A: Yes, sir. He had mentioned the jihad training for the recruits. (Id. at 1331:2-11.) Ujaama testified that he was upset when he learned that Abu Hamza had shared his idea of starting a training camp with Kassir (id. at 1335:7-17, 1463:6-1464:14.), and stated that, as a general matter, he disliked Kassir (id. at 1448:17-1451:19). According to Ujaama, disagreements between him and Kassir eventually drove Ujaama to leave the Bly training camp and, later, the Seattle area as well. (Id. at 1332:21-25, 1336:9-1338:4.) Ujaama also stated at one point that he intended his conduct to provide support only to the Taliban, as opposed to any other group such as al Qaeda. (Id. at 1523:24-1524:7.)

The Government corroborated much of Ujaama's testimony with physical evidence and the testimony of other witnesses. First, the Government introduced as evidence a fax that Ujaama sent to Abu Hamza on October 25, 1999, in which Ujaama outlined his idea for the Bly training camp and stated that he was "expecting the two brothers that we discussed to come in November." (Id. at 1318:9-12; Gov't's Ex. 624.) The Government then offered evidence showing that Kassir and Aswat arrived in the United States that November (id. at 1631:8-1632:17), and that Kassir had a copy of Ujaama's fax (id. at 933:12-14, 1034:13-22, 1335:7-9). Second, the Government called Ayat Hakima -- the wife of the owner of the Bly camp property -- and Angelica Osman -- Semi Osman's wife -- both of whom testified that Kassir admitted in their presence that Abu Hamza had sent him to Bly to train people for jihad. (Id. at 929:15-930:12, 1033:15-18, 1053:3-17.) Third, the Government called Jabari Anderson and Nathan Bishop, one-time members of the Seattle mosque, who testified that Kassir provided hand-to-hand combat and weapons training -- such as how to modify an AK-47 to launch a grenade -- at the mosque and had encouraged his trainees to engage in terrorist acts. (Id. at 1217:12-1218:11; 1567:1-1568:15.)

The Government also offered evidence linking this jihad training to al Qaeda. According to Nathan Bishop, Kassir explained that the training was the "first lesson that every mujahid [holy warrior] needs to know . . . [i]f you ever go up or get to go up to the mountains." (Id. 1210:10-15.) Bishop explained that he understood "going up to the mountains" to be a reference to "the mountains of Afghanistan or Kashmir or maybe to Afghanistan [sic]." (Id. at 1210:16-19.) As the Government's terrorism expert, Evan Kohlman ("Kohlman"), explained, at that time in Afghanistan, the Taliban and al Qaeda were jointly fighting against the Northern Alliance. (Id. at 732:21-733:19.) The Government also read a stipulation indicating that Aswat, Kassir's travel companion, signed a ledger in an al Qaeda safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, that contained the fingerprints of al Qaeda's chief operational planner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed. (Id. at 984:10-985:16.)

In support of the Terrorist Websites Charges, the Government offered evidence showing that the IMC distributed jihadi training materials, such as the Mujahideen Explosives Handbook, the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook, and Muskar.doc, a manual on how to run a terrorist training camp. Kohlman explained how the dissemination of these materials benefitted al Qaeda:

Q: How can a document like [Muskar.doc] posted on the Internet help al Qaeda?

A: Again, al Qaeda is not just an organization. Al Qaeda also views itself as an ideology. It hopes to encourage people around the world who are unable to travel to places like Afghanistan or Somalia or wherever else, it hopes to encourage those people to do what they can at home.

Particularly after 9/11, there was a tremendous emphasis on the training camps are closed [sic]. You can't just come to Afghanistan now to get training and go home. Now the battle is in your own backyard. The battle is what you yourself are able to do with your own abilities, so you should do whatever you can. It is an individual duty upon you to participate in the struggle. It is not about Usama Bin Laden and it's not about al Qaeda. It is about the methodology ...


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