Hailing a "defining day" in the fight against terrorism, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the arrests of four people in Oregon and Michigan on Friday on charges of conspiring to wage war on the United States and support Al Qaeda.
Authorities arrested four people in Oregon and Michigan -- including a former U.S. Army reservist. Two other suspects were indicted and were being sought overseas.
Five of the six in the latest indictment are U.S. citizens. According to prosecutors, some of them took weapons training and then tried to travel to Afghanistan to join up with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but could not get into the country.
Ashcroft said one of those arrested, Jeffrey Leon Battle, joined the U.S. Army Reserves to obtain training in U.S. tactics and weapons. Ashcroft said Battle, who was discharged last January while in Bangladesh, intended to use that experience against American soldiers in Afghanistan.
Battle later "caused himself to be discharged" from the Army, Ashcroft said without elaborating.
Court papers identified the six as Battle, 32; Patrice Lumumba Ford, 31; Ahmed Ibrahim Bilal, 24; his brother Muhammad Ibrahim Bilal, 22; Habis Abdullah al Saoub, 37; and October Martinique Lewis, 25, the ex-wife of Battle.
Battle, Lumumba Ford, Ahmed Bilal, Muhammad Bilal and Abdullah al Saoub set out for Afghanistan in October 2001 and tried to enter the country by way of China but failed, Ashcroft said.
Lewis stayed behind and wired money to Battle eight times "with the knowledge the money would be used to support his attempt to reach Afghanistan" to help Al Qaeda and the Taliban, according to the attorney general.
Ahmed Bilal and al Saoub were being sought outside the United States. Battle, Ford and Lewis were arrested in Portland, and Muhammad Bilal was taken into custody in Michigan. He had been living with a sister in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn for about a month but had previously lived in Oregon.
Muhammad Bilal was held without bail after a court appearance in Detroit. Prosecutor Barbara McQuade said that Bilal had recently traveled to Hong Kong, China and Indonesia.
Ashcroft, announcing the arrests at a Washington news conference, called it a "defining day."
The arrests came on the same day that a tearful John Walker Lindh was sentenced to 20 years for fighting for the Taliban and a laughing Richard Reid pleaded guilty in Boston to trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with explosives hidden in his shoes.
In Alexandria, Va., Lindh asked forgiveness for serving the Taliban rulers who sheltered bin Laden and his terrorist leadership in Afghanistan. Lindh, 21, read a 20-mintue statement renouncing terrorism and bin Laden.
Prosecutors in Boston said they would ask for a sentence of 60 years to life in prison for Reid, 29. Reid, a British subject who converted to Islam like Lindh, was accused of trying to murder the 197 people aboard a Paris-to-Miami flight on Dec. 22 by trying to light a fuse sticking out of his shoes.
Ashcroft, meanwhile, said the FBI is looking into whether other Portland-area residents may have also gone to Afghanistan with the same intention as the six indicted.
The charges against the six included conspiracy to levy war against the United States, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to al Qaida, conspiracy to contribute services to Al Qaeda and the Taliban and possessing firearms in furtherance of crimes of violence.
The indictment said Battle, Ahmed Bilal and al Saoub engaged in weapons training in Washougal, Wash., starting in late September 2001, to prepare to fight with Taliban forces.
Ashcroft said the arrests represent "a textbook example" of cooperation among federal, state and local authorities in the war against terrorism.
Members of Portland's Muslim community were angered by the arrests.
"It seems like part of the witch hunt from the FBI," said Alaa Abunijem, president of the Islamic Center. "The Muslim community in general is being targeted. People in general feel targeted."
The Portland arrests occurred at an apartment complex a block from the Rizwan Mosque.
Sheik Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye, a prayer leader at another Muslim site not far away, the Islamic Center of Portland, was arrested Sept. 9 and charged with Social Security fraud. The FBI initially said traces of explosives residue were found on his luggage, but further tests ruled out the residue.
Kariye remains in jail.
The investigation leading to the six arrests started on Sept. 29, 2001, when a Skamania County, Wash., sheriff's deputy responding to a noise complaint discovered some people in "Middle Eastern attire" firing weapons at a gravel pit. The sheriff's department contacted the FBI.