A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted three Ohio men for their role in assisting terrorism on U.S. targets overseas, specifically American military personnel and their allies in Iraq.
The indictment said the men plotted to kill U.S. and coalition military personnel in Iraq and other countries. On at least two separate occasions, among other charges, at least one of the men verbally threatened to kill or inflict bodily harm on President Bush, the indictment says.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced the five-count indictment during a press conference Tuesday.
"These defendants have been living in the United States, where they have been engaging in weapons training and seeking help in order to kill people abroad, including our troops," Gonzales said.
"Individuals who aid terrorists within our borders threaten the safety of all Americans," he continued. "We are committed to protecting Americans, here and overseas, particularly the brave men and women of the U.S. armed forces who are serving our country and striving valiantly to preserve democracy and the rule of law in Iraq."
The men named in the indictment are: Mohammad Zaki Amawi, 26, who was a citizen of Jordan and the United States who lived in Toledo until August 2005; Marwan Othman El-Hindi, a 42-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen born in Amman, Jordan who lives in Toledo; and Wassim Mazloum, a 24-year-old legal U.S. resident who operated a car business with his brother in Toledo after entering the United States from Lebanon.
The three pleaded not guilty in federal courts in Cleveland and Toledo. The most serious charges could bring life in prison.
The indictment also notes that a fourth person, referred to as "the trainer," was a U.S. citizen but was not named as a conspirator. One official told FOX News that law enforcement was tipped to the activities of these three men by this informant, who is an ex-U.S. military man who fought overseas and was living in Toledo. He is described as "a respected member of the Muslim community" who came forward and gave information to the authorities.
The Justice Department said "the trainer" was working on behalf of the government and was cooperating from the beginning of the investigation.
The three men were arrested over the weekend and are currently in custody, said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Bauer in Toledo.
"This is classic treason — waging war in the United States," said FOX News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano. "Ohio is Middle America ... it's just not the place you'd expect something like this to be hatched."
The charges outlined in the five-count indictment include: conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim, or injure people outside of the United States; conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, distributing information regarding explosives and making threats against the president of the United States. The most serious count that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison if prosecutors prove intent to kill.
Amawi is accused of twice threatening in conversations to kill or injure Bush. He also is charged with distributing information about the making and use of an explosive device.
The indictment accuses Mazloum of offering to use his car dealership as a cover for traveling to and from Iraq so that he could learn how to build small explosives using household materials.
El-Hindi is accused of trying to get "the trainer" to travel with him in November 2004 to the Middle East as part of the suspects' plan to establish a terrorism training center.
Officials told FOX News that the three men went as far as identifying a trip Bush was planning to Toledo and talked about ways of trying to get to him, including ramming his motorcade. But they eventually decided that security was too tight and that they were likely to get caught or killed and not be able to kill the president in the process.
The indictment says that from at least as early as November 2004 until the present, the defendants and others got together in Ohio to hatch a plan to kill people, including U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq. It says the men knowingly provided material support for this terror mission. They even tried to set up a non-profit organization through which to funnel money for their mission.
Amawi traveled to Jordan in October 2003 and returned to the United States in March 2004 after an unsuccessful attempt to enter Iraq and wage jihad, the charges state. He returned to Jordan in August 2005.
But in 2004 and 2005, the suspects recruited others to train for a violent holy war against the United States and its allies in Iraq, the indictment said. The group traveled together to a shooting range to practice shooting guns and studied how to make explosives, the indictment said. Around Jan. 27, 2005, Amawi communicated by computer with individuals in the Middle East, who told him some of the "brothers" were preparing to enter Iraq, according to the charges.
In 2002, "the trainer" was solicited by El-Hindi to assist in providing security and bodyguard training, and too travel with the suspects to the Middle East for firearms training and to help coordinate jihad training activities. The "trainer" also instructed the men on how to make improvised explosive devices and was asked if he knew how to procure chemical explosives for individuals in the Middle East.
"As we know, one of the greatest dangers to our men and women fighting in Iraq is the IED," Gonzales said.
On or around Feb. 16, 2005, Mazloum, Amawi and El-Hindi debated what the insurgents in Iraq needed most — money, weapons or manpower, and discussed the effectiveness of snipers against U.S. military personnel, the charges state.
Two of the men discussed plans to practice setting off explosives on July 4, 2005, so that the bombs would not be noticed, the indictment says.
"This is not the end, this is the tip of the iceberg. There are many other cells that are being looked at, I can assure you," said former CIA operative Wayne Simmons.
One interesting aspect of the case is that officials seem to have intercepted e-mail communications from the suspects to their jihadist brethren in the Middle East. The indictment shows the nature of the e-mails, including a concern the men needed to use code words to conceal what they were talking about.
One official told FOX News that this investigation used all the tools, including FISA warrants.
"A lot of FISAs," one source said, referring to the warrants obtained under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Law enforcement officials also told FOX News that if it were not for the Patriot Act, authorities would not have been able to bring the charge of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
The issue of warrantless wiretaps has been a controversial one after information regarding such a program being conducted by the National Security Agency was leaked to the New York Times. Since then, a firestorm of criticism has been heaped upon the administration, which argues that the president has the authority to allow warrantless wiretaps in a time of war if it is in the national security interest of the United States.
When asked during the Tuesday press conference whether any of the information obtained to make the case against the three men presented, Gonzales said all law enforcement and legal officials are very concerned about not jeopardizing any investigation or case by using faulty intelligence-gathering means.
"We feel very, very strongly about this case, otherwise, we would not have brought forth the indictment," he added.
Amawi was assigned a public defender. Mazloum's attorney, Chuck Sallah, said he knew very little about his client or the charges.
Earlier this week, the U.S. government ordered a freeze on the asssets of KindHearts, a Toledo-based group suspected of funneling money to the militant organization Hamas. Law enforcement officials, speaking of condition of anonymity, said the arrests of the three men spurred the decision to freeze KindHearts' assets.
"Some aspects of them do overlap," an official said.
KindHearts has denied any terrorist connections and has said it is a humanitarian organization.
FOX News' Jim Angle, Michael Levine and The Associated Press contributed to this report.