WASHINGTON – The Air Force translator accused of espionage at the terrorist prison in Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba, was likely working for Islamic extremists connected to Al Qaeda (search), The Post has learned.
U.S. officials said yesterday that investigators have traced e-mail communications from senior airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi (search), a Syrian-born translator from Detroit, to a handful of "individuals" in Syria (search), including one man - whom they would not identify - suspected of ties to Usama bin Laden's (search) terror network.
"The case is going more in the direction of radical Islamic groups instead of the Syrian government. At this point we don't think there is a Syrian intelligence connection," said a military official.
Al-Halabi, 24, was arrested in Florida on July 23 while returning to his home in California and charged with 30 counts of espionage and failing to report improper contact with the Syrian Embassy. He says he's innocent.
Court documents revealed yesterday the Air Force was "monitoring and investigating" al-Halabi before he was sent to Guantanamo.
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations had been keeping track of al-Halabi since last November "based on reports of suspicious activity," Special Agent Lance Wega wrote in applying for a search warrant with a California federal court. The warrant was granted.
While at Guantanamo, al-Halabi "made statements criticizing United States policy with regard to the detainees and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East" and also "expressed sympathy for and had unauthorized contact with the detainees," Wega wrote.
Military investigators searched al-Halabi's quarters at Guantanamo on July 19 and found several pieces of mail belonging to Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects at the prison camp, Wega said.
On his computer's hard drive, the agent said, investigators found 186 classified Defense Department documents related to the Guantanamo detainees.
Computer evidence indicates al-Halabi e-mailed or posted four of those documents on the Internet, Wega said.
The implication is that al-Halabi was helping the prisoners communicate among themselves and with the outside world.