PORTLAND, Ore. – A software engineer pleaded guilty Wednesday to a charge of aiding the Taliban (search), agreeing to testify against other suspects in exchange for the dropping of other terrorism charges.
Maher "Mike" Hawash (search), one of the so-called "Portland Seven," will serve at least seven years in federal prison under the deal, which was approved by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (search).
Hawash pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide services to the Taliban. Prosecutors agreed to drop charges of conspiring to levy war against the United States and conspiring to provide material support for terrorism.
"You and the others in the group were prepared to take up arms, and die as martyrs if necessary, to defend the Taliban. Is this true?" U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones asked Hawash during the hearing.
"Yes, your honor," Hawash replied.
Hawash's attorney Steven Houze said his client had decided to cooperate fully with the government, but declined to comment on details of the plea negotiations. Houze said Hawash had faced more than 20 years in prison if convicted on all three counts.
In March, federal agents seized Hawash, 38, from a parking lot outside Intel Corp., where he worked, and simultaneously searched his home. He was held as a material witness until charges were filed five weeks later. In what supporters called an abuse of civil rights, federal officials did not publicly confirm he was being held during those five weeks.
In a 41-page affidavit, the U.S. Attorney's Office accused Hawash, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Palestinian descent, of growing angry with the United States after the Sept. 11. 2001, attacks, then conspiring with co-defendants to join the fight in Afghanistan against U.S. troops.
Hawash accompanied the group as it tried and failed to enter Afghanistan from western China in late fall 2001, according to court documents. The Taliban was the militant Muslim organization that controlled most of Afghanistan until the American invasion following the terrorist attacks.
Five of the other six suspects in the case -- Jeffrey Battle; Battle's ex-wife, October Lewis; Patrice Lumumba Ford; and brothers Ahmed and Muhammad Bilal -- all have pleaded innocent. The sixth, Habis al Saoub, remains at large. They face various conspiracy, firearms and money laundering charges.