ALEXANDRIA, Va. – An American citizen was charged Tuesday with conspiring to assassinate President Bush and with supporting Al Qaeda (search).
If convicted of all the charges, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali (search), 23, faces a maximum sentence of 80 years in prison.
Abu Ali, a former Virginia high school valedictorian, made an initial appearance Tuesday in U.S. District Court. He contended that he was tortured while detained in Saudi Arabia since June of 2003 and offered through his lawyer to show the judge his scars.
"It's all lies," his father said of the charges, and his lawyer said he would plead innocent.
An indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Alexandria on Feb. 3 was unsealed Tuesday. There are 10 alleged co-conspirators in the indictment.
Abu Ali faces six counts: conspiracy to provide material support and resources to Al Qaeda; providing material support to Al Qaeda; conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists; providing material support to terrorists; contribution of services to Al Qaeda; and receipt of funds and services from Al Qaeda.
The federal indictment said that in 2002 and 2003 Abu Ali and an unidentified co-conspirator discussed plans for Abu Ali to assassinate Bush. They discussed two scenarios, the indictment said: one in which Abu Ali "would get close enough to the president to shoot him on the street" and, alternatively, "an operation in which Abu Ali would detonate a car bomb."
Abu Ali's court-appointed attorney, Edwards MacMahon, said his client intends to plead not guilty to all charges.
"I would ask everyone to remember that he fought and his family fought very hard for him to come back here and for him to have a chance to have a fair trial and he expects to have a fair trial and to be vindicated," said MacMahon, who also is representing the so-called "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui.
Click here to read the indictment. The White House has no immediate comment.
U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty of the Eastern District of Virginia, whose office also investigated and prosecuted the Abu Ali case with the assistance of the Counterterrorism Section of Criminal Division at the Department of Justice, said in a statement: "After the devastating terrorist attack and murders of September 11, the defendant turned his back on America and joined the cause of Al Qaeda. He now stands charged with some of the most serious offenses our nation can bring against supporters of terrorism."
Abu Ali was born in Houston and later moved to Falls Church, Va., where he was valedictorian of his high school class. He allegedly went on to pursue religious studies in Saudi Arabia in 2000 and federal prosecutors say Abu Ali joined an Al Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia in 2001. The alleged Bush plot occurred while he was studying in that country, the indictment says.
Sometime around September 2002, Abu Ali allegedly returned to Saudi Arabia (search) and told an unnamed co-conspirator that he was interested in joining Al Qaeda. The indictment alleges that Abu Ali intended to become a planner of terrorist operations like Muhammad Atta and Khalid Sheik Muhammad.
Abu Ali allegedly decided at one point to go to Afghanistan to take part in a violent jihad against American military personnel there. He applied for a visa to travel to Iran as a means to enter Afghanistan but his application was denied, according to the indictment.
Abu Ali also received money from another co-conspirator and Al Qaeda member to buy a laptop computer, a cell phone and books, the indictment says. Abu Ali is said to have purchased all the equipment.
At some point, this alleged Al Qaeda member who gave him the money discussed with Abu Ali establishing an Al Qaeda cell in the United States. Abu Ali received training in weapons, explosives and document forgery from Al Qaeda members, the indictment says.
According to the indictment, Abu Ali obtained a religious blessing from another unidentified co-conspirator to assassinate the president. One of the unidentified co-conspirators in the plot is among 19 people the Saudi government said in 2003 was seeking to launch terror attacks in that country, according to the indictment.
He was arrested in Saudi Arabia on June 9, 2003.
The indictment lists some of Abu Ali's possessions as of June 16, 2003:
— A six page document regarding surveillance by the government and private entities and how to avoid the surveillance;
— An undated two-page document praising Taliban leader Mullah Omar and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001;
— Audio tapes in Arabic promoting violent jihad and the killing of Jews;
— A book written by Al Qaeda official Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Abu Ali's family contends that U.S. officials were behind his detention by Saudi authorities and wanted him held in that country so he could be tortured for information. A lawsuit brought on their behalf in U.S. District Court in Washington seeks to compel the government to disclose what it knows about Abu Ali and his detention.
MacMahon told FOX News that everyone who was in the court's holding area saw the "scars" on Abu Ali's back, adding, "there is no question that he was whipped while in Saudi custody."
Abu Ali's appearance in federal court here was a surprise because the government never publicly disclosed that he had left Saudi Arabia.
More than 100 supporters of Abu Ali crowded the courtroom Tuesday and laughed when the charge was read aloud alleging that he conspired to assassinate Bush.
When Abu Ali asked to speak, U.S. Magistrate Liam O'Grady suggested he consult with his attorney, Ashraf Nubani.
"He was tortured," Nubani told the court. "He has the evidence on his back. He was whipped. He was handcuffed for days at a time."
When Nubani offered to show the judge his back, O'Grady said that Abu Ali might be able to enter that as evidence on Thursday at a detention hearing.
"I can assure you you will not suffer any torture or humiliation while in the [U.S.] marshals' custody," O'Grady said.
Before Tuesday's court appearance, more than 600 family members, friends and acquaintences of Abu Ali signed an online petition, which sent to the State Department, saying his detention in Saudi Arabia was unjust and demanding his release.
"It has been more than six months since his detention with NO charges having been filed against him," the petition states. "His right to meet with his family and seek legal counsel has been denied. Additionally, we urge the U.S. State Department to do all that it can to bring Ahmed home immediately."
FOX News' Catherine Herridge, Anna Persky and The Associated Press contributed to this report.