NEW YORK – A man in custody in Canada was indicted on Friday on U.S. charges that he helped coordinate Tunisian jihadists believed responsible for separate suicide attacks in Iraq in 2009 that killed five American soldiers outside a U.S. base and seven people at an Iraqi police complex.
Faruq Khalil Muhammad 'Isa, a 38-year-old Canadian citizen and Iraqi national, was arrested in January on a U.S. warrant after an investigation by authorities in New York, Canada and Tunisia. Muhammad 'Isa is being held in Edmonton, Alberta, where he's fighting extradition to federal court in Brooklyn to face charges of conspiring to kill Americans and providing material support to terrorists.
Muhammad 'Isa never left Canada as part of the alleged conspiracy, and his attorney said Friday that the United States has no jurisdiction.
"All the evidence was gathered here," said the Edmonton lawyer, Bob Aloneissi, said in a phone interview. "There's just no tie. ... This should be done for a legal reason and not a political reason."
An extradition request made public Friday offered fresh details on wiretap evidence and an interview of Muhammad 'Isa that U.S. authorities claim link him to the terror network. Authorities say the group used a suicide bomber to detonate an explosives-laden truck outside the gate of the U.S. base in Mosul, Iraq, on April 10, 2009, killing the five soldiers, and it also staged a suicide bombing on the Iraqi police station on March 31, 2009.
The evidence shows that "the goal of the attacks was to compel the United States government to remove its armed forces from Iraq," the extradition request says.
A U.S. Department of Justice investigator interviewed Muhammad 'Isa on Jan. 19 with an FBI agent and a Royal Canadian Mounted Police corporal present, the request says. The interview "was conducted in compliance with United States law," with Muhammad 'Isa signing a waiver before voluntarily answering questions, it says.
During the interview, Muhammad 'Isa admitted he corresponded by email from Canada with two of the terrorists while they were in Syria, and knew that they were on a mission to kill Americans, the paperwork says. The documents allege he corresponded with "facilitators" who were trying to get the attackers into Iraq, and wired one of them $700.
On wiretaps, Muhammad 'Isa was overheard last year discussing with someone in Iraq how he used code words when discussing the Iraq operation, the papers say.
"For example, when I want to name the brothers, I say the farmers — because they plant metal and harvest metal and flesh," the papers quote him as saying. He also explained that he used the term "married" to mean "in the afterlife."
U.S. authorities alleged that the day after the attack that killed the five soldiers, Muhammad 'Isa asked in an electronic communication, "Did you hear about the huge incident yesterday? Is it known?" He also identified the bomber as "one of the Tunisian brothers," to which a facilitator responded, "Praise God."
Muhammad 'Isa told investigators in the interview that by "huge incident" he meant an explosion, the papers say.
The papers add: "When asked if he believed that it was a religious duty for Muslims to travel to Iraq and fight Americans, (Muhammad 'Isa) stated that he believed it was the duty for every Muslim who lived in Iraq to fight American 'invaders.'"
The indictment comes at a time when Congress, over Obama administration objections, is pushing policies to ramp up the military's role in the handling of captured terrorism suspects. A House-passed bill would require military tribunals to try suspected terrorists. A Senate-passed bill would mandate military custody for those captured, even in the United States, and linked to al-Qaida or its affiliates.
Members of the House and Senate are negotiating a final version of the bill that could include those provisions. They hope to complete their work by early next week.
If convicted in a civilian court, Muhammad 'Isa faces life in prison.
Associated Press Writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.