DETROIT – The government wrapped up its case Tuesday against four Arab Americans charged with running a terrorist "sleeper" cell, setting the stage for deliberations in the first U.S. trial of its kind since the Sept. 11 attacks.
It took more than two hours for U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Rosen (search) to finish jury instructions. Deliberations will begin Wednesday.
"This case is not about Arabs, this case is not about Muslims," Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Corbett told the jury, noting how defense lawyers suggested prejudice is behind the charges. "This case is about terrorism."
Ahmed Hannan, 34, Karim Koubriti, 24, Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, 37, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud, 22, are charged with conspiracy to provide support to terrorists and another conspiracy count. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Hannan, Koubriti and Ali-Haimoud also face two fraud-related charges that carry up to 25 years in prison.
Ali-Haimoud is from Algeria (search) and the other three are from Morocco (search). All are legal immigrants and all are Muslim. The government has suggested they are Islamic extremists who wanted to bring about attacks in the United States and abroad in a plot hatched before the men arrived here in the late 1990s and 2000.
Among the evidence presented were false documents found during a raid of a Detroit apartment six days after the Sept. 11 attacks. Authorities also found a videotape the government says cases possible targets and a day planner that contains what witnesses said are sketches of an American air base in Turkey and a military hospital in Jordan.
Defense lawyers said the planner belonged to a now-dead mentally ill man who liked to doodle. They said the video, which includes scenes of Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, is an innocuous travelogue.
The defense also said the government built its case largely on the lies of a self-described con artist: Youssef Hmimssa, a former roommate of some of the men.
Hmimssa testified that Elmardoudi, the cell's alleged ringleader, told him about the possibility of massive attacks on the United States one month before the jetliner hijackings of Sept. 11. Hmimssa also said the men wanted him to make fake airport and FBI identification and that Koubriti wanted a license to haul hazardous materials.
Hmimssa described the men as extremists who wanted to support strikes, ship arms to the Middle East and smuggle "brothers" into the country. But he offered few details and some of the claims rest solely on his word.
Defense attorneys suggested the witness cooked up the terrorism allegations in a bid to win leniency. Hmimssa, a Moroccan in the United States illegally, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to fraud-related charges in three states. He has admitted using aliases, engaging in document fraud and leading a credit card scheme that netted more than $180,000.
"He thinks that if he talks the same lie day after day it must be the truth," defense attorney William Swor said of Hmimssa. "This is a guy who every day of his life has persevered by lying."