ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A former high school valedictorian accused of joining Al Qaeda (search) and plotting to assassinate President Bush pleaded innocent Monday in federal court to providing material support to terrorists and other charges.
Despite defense protests, an Aug. 22 trial date was scheduled for Ahmed Omar Abu Ali (search), 23, of Falls Church. He was indicted last month and charged with six counts that would allow a maximum prison term of 80 years.
Prosecutors say Abu Ali, a U.S. citizen who was valedictorian of his class at an Islamic private school in northern Virginia, joined Al Qaeda while studying overseas in Saudi Arabia (search).
Prosecutors allege that Abu Ali discussed numerous terrorist acts with other al-Qaida members, including a plan in which he would either shoot Bush or detonate a car bomb.
Other alleged discussions included a Sept. 11-style attack in which airplanes would be hijacked from the United Kingdom or Australia and flown to targets in the United States.
An FBI agent testified that Abu Ali admitted his guilt multiple times in interviews with Saudi and American authorities, but Abu Ali's lawyers say the government's evidence was obtained through torture and that they have seen the scars on Abu Ali's back from the beatings he endured while in Saudi custody.
Lawyers for Abu Ali filed a motion seeking medical and psychological evaluations that they contend will support his claim that he was tortured. U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee said he would schedule a hearing as soon as Friday on the defense motion.
Abu Ali's lawyer Ashraf Nubani pressed for a May 4 trial, arguing the August trial date would violate federal speedy trial rules and said the government wanted the additional time to "concoct its case."
Prosecutors said they needed a later trial date because of the complexity of the case.
The counts against Abu Ali include two counts of conspiring conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, two counts of providing material support to terrorists, one count of contributing services to al-Qaida and one count of receiving funds and services from al-Qaida.