Feds Say Sailor Charged With Terrorism Made References to Bin Laden in Phone Conversations

A former sailor accused of disclosing information about Navy ships to a terrorism supporter made coded reference to Usama bin Laden in a recorded phone call with friends, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Phone calls were played in a court hearing to decide whether to admit the evidence in the case against Hassan Abu-Jihaad. Lawyers for Abu-Jihaad have argued that the calls and other evidence, such as e-mail searches, should be thrown out after a judge's ruling in September that struck down portions of the USA Patriot Act.

In one phone call between the sailor and some friends, Abu-Jihaad is heard making what prosecutors said is a coded reference to bin Laden, using the phrase "under the black leaves."

He is also heard talking about the different techniques of American and Islamic snipers.

Abu-Jihaad, 31, of Phoenix, pleaded not guilty in April to charges he provided material support to terrorists with intent to kill U.S. citizens and disclosed classified information relating to the national defense. He has been held without bail since his arrest in March in Phoenix.

The hearing on whether to admit the evidence is expected to last three days.

The defense cited U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken's ruling in Oregon that the Patriot Act cannot be used to authorize secret searches and wiretapping to gather criminal evidence — instead of intelligence gathering — without violating the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Bush administration is appealing the ruling.

Abu-Jihaad is charged in the same case as Babar Ahmad, a British computer specialist arrested in 2004 and accused of running Web sites to raise money for terrorism. Ahmad is to be extradited to the U.S.

During a search of Ahmad's computers, investigators discovered files containing classified information about the positions of U.S. Navy ships and discussing their susceptibility to attack, officials said.

Abu-Jihaad exchanged e-mails with Ahmad while on active duty on the USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer, in 2000 and 2001, according to an FBI affidavit. In those e-mails, Abu-Jihaad discussed naval briefings and praised bin Laden and those who attacked the USS Cole in 2000, according to the affidavit.

The Internet service provider where the investigation started was based in Connecticut and followed a suspected terrorist network across the country and into Europe and the Middle East.

An FBI informant said he learned the former sailor had passed along the information about the ships from Abu-Jihaad's former roommate, Derrick Shareef.

"He told me that Abu-Jihaad was on the ships in the Middle East and that he passed along information to a Web site," said William Chrisman, a cooperating witness for the FBI who tape recorded conversations with Shareef last year.

"What type of information?" a prosecutor asked.

"Ship coordinates," Chrisman said.

Shareef, 23, pleaded guilty Wednesday in a federal court in Chicago to a separate charge of plotting to attack a Rockford, Ill., mall with hand grenades in 2006.

Authorities said Abu-Jihaad also had a plan to engage in a coordinated sniper attack on U.S. military personnel at a military base in San Diego. The plan called for firing weapons to draw soldiers from their barracks and then shooting them, prosecutors said in newly unsealed court papers.

In court papers, Abu-Jihaad's attorneys say that Shareef denied Abu-Jihaad told him he sent e-mails to a Web site, and that he learned about the case in the news in 2004. They also reject the notion that the men were involved in a plot to attack military bases or recruiting stations, quoting Shareef as saying the discussions never rose above "idle talk."

Abu-Jihaad, who received an honorable discharge from the Navy in 2002, faces as many as 25 years in prison if convicted.