Published November 23, 2005
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – An Arab-American college student was convicted Tuesday of joining Al Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President Bush.
The federal jury rejected Ahmed Omar Abu Ali's claim that Saudi authorities whipped and tortured him to extract a false confession.
Abu Ali, a 24-year-old U.S. citizen born to a Jordanian father and raised in Falls Church, Va., could get life in prison on charges that included conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to hijack aircraft and providing support to Al Qaeda.
The jury deliberated for 2 1/2 days. Abu Ali swallowed hard before the verdict was read but otherwise showed little emotion. He did not testify at his trial.
"Obviously the jury has spoken, but the fight is not over," defense attorney Khurrum Wahid said. "We intend to use the justice system to prove our client's innocence."
Abu Ali told authoritiees shortly after his arrest at a Medina, Saudi Arabia, university in June 2003 that he joined al-Qaida and discussed various terrorist plots, including a plan to personally assassinate Bush and to establish himself as a leader of an Al Qaeda cell in the United States.
But the defense countered that he was tortured by the Saudi security force known as the Mubahith.
Wahid suggested that an Al Qaeda member arrested by the Saudis falsely fingered Abu Ali to protect other cell members still at large. "You think the Al Qaeda guys are going to give up a fellow Al Qaeda, or did they pick some patsy from the University of Medina?" Wahid said in closing arguments.
Prosecutors said he was never mistreated and confessed voluntarily.
Prosecutors said Abu Ali went to Saudi Arabia in 2002 with the notion of becoming a terrorist and later met Al Qaeda's No. 2 man in Medina.
"The true focus of his education quickly became apparent," prosecutor Stephen Campbell said. "Instead of studying Islamic law, he began attending secret terrorist training sessions."