James Ujaama pleads guilty to terrorism charges - Seattle man attended Finsbury Park Mosque and aided Taliban
August 26, 2007
James Ujaama says he fled to avoid testifying.
Ujaama admits to terror charges
By David Bowermaster And Mike Carter
Tuesday, August 14, 2007 - 12:00 AM
James Ujaama, the Seattle man who pleaded guilty in 2003 to aiding the Taliban, admitted to a federal judge in New York on Monday that he fled to Belize last year to avoid testifying against his alleged co-conspirators.
Ujaama, 41, also pleaded guilty Monday to three terrorism charges, including a conspiracy charge related to Ujaama's efforts to establish a jihad-training camp in Bly, Ore., in 1999.
The government had dropped the terrorism charges against Ujaama in 2003 after he agreed to cooperate with federal investigators in exchange for a two-year prison term.
Ujaama now faces up to 30 years in prison on the new charges against him. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 12 in New York.
Ujaama has negotiated a new plea agreement with the government, according to federal officials, but the terms of the deal were placed under seal. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.
Ujaama's lawyer, Peter Offenbecher, did not return a call seeking comment.
The new charges are a stark turnaround for Ujaama, who pleaded guilty in 2003 to a lesser charge of conspiring to aid the outlaw Taliban government in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. Federal officials have called Ujaama's help crucial in the 2004 indictment of Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri on charges of trying to establish the training camp and providing aid to al-Qaida.
In exchange for the two-year prison sentence, which he completed in 2005, Ujaama agreed to testify against several high-profile alleged terrorism supporters, including al-Masri and at least two of al-Masri's alleged henchmen, Oussama Kassir and Haroon Rashid Aswat.
Aswat has been questioned about the July 7, 2005, London subway and bus bombings that killed 56. All three men have been indicted in the U.S. in connection with the Bly training-camp plot.
Ujaama fled the U.S. with a fake Mexican passport on Dec. 5 of last year.
He was arrested outside a mosque in Belize on Dec. 18 after a scuffle with local police. Belize authorities said they were alerted by the international police agency Interpol that Ujaama was in the country.
Ujaama was returned to Seattle, and in February U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein sentenced him to two years in prison for violating the terms of his supervised release.
"You violated the trust I put in you," Rothstein told Ujaama.
By violating the 2003 plea agreement, Ujaama paved the way for the government to reinstate the much heftier terrorism charges it previously had dropped.
Ujaama said Monday he fled because he did not want to testify against al-Masri.
Ujaama had said he feared for his life, but federal officials said they aren't convinced his life was in danger. They believe Ujaama may have been attempting to regain credibility within some radical Muslim circles by fleeing to avoid testifying against al-Masri, Kassir and Aswat.
Ujaama, who attended Seattle's Ingraham High School, initially came under FBI scrutiny after agents learned that in 1999 he traveled from London to Seattle and stayed at the now-defunct Dar-us-Salaam mosque in the Central Area. After visiting a small ranch near Bly with others from the mosque, Ujaama contacted al-Masri to say he had found a site for jihad training in America.
Al-Masri, in turn, sent Aswat and Kassir to Bly to investigate the property. They were disappointed and left, but not before Kassir said publicly that he wanted to kill Ujaama.
After his initial arrest as a material witness in 2002, Ujaama released a statement: "The fact is that I am innocent of any wrongdoing and am fully prepared to face my accusers and defend myself in a court of law."
He was charged that summer with conspiracy to aid al-Qaida and plotting to "kill and maim" people outside the U.S. Ujaama pleaded guilty in April 2003 to one count of conspiring to provide cash, computers and fighters to the Taliban.
Exclusive: Why Won't James Ujaama, US Citizen, Testify Against Abu Hamza?
(Part One of Three)
Source: The Family Security Foundation, Inc.
Date: August 27, 2007 http://www.familysecuritymatters.org/terrorism.php?id=1276645
Ernest James Ujaama was indicted with conspiring to provide "material support and resources" to al Qaeda, and will give up a lifetime of freedom to avoid testifying against another terror suspect. Why? FSM Contributing Editor Adrian Morgan sifts through the evidence for answers.
Why Won't James Ujaama, US Citizen, Testify Against Abu Hamza?
(Part One of Three)
By Adrian Morgan
Trials and Tribulations
On Monday August 13, 2007, 41-year-old Earnest James Ujaama appeared at the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Four years before, on April 14, 2003, Ujaama had pleaded guilty to conspiring to give material support for terrorism. He had agreed to assist U.S. prosecutors to pursue a case against the hook-handed British Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri and two other individuals.
In return for his cooperation, Ujaama had agreed to a two year jail term (including time already served in prison) and three years' of supervised release. That sentence was officially imposed on February 13, 2004 in Seattle, where Ujaama told U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Jacobs Rothstein: "In the future, I will act more responsibly and make the right choices." Other charges against him had been dropped, and Ujaama was sentenced for a single charge of conspiracy to provide assistance to the Taliban. He was freed from jail on April 19, 2004, with credit for good behavior.
On December 18, 2006 however, James Ujaama was found in Belize in Central America. He had been engaged in a "scuffle" with local police outside a mosque. He had entered the country illegally with a Mexican passport about ten days before his capture. With only three months remaining of his supervision order, James Ujaama had thrown away his hopes of freedom.
On February 1st this year in Seattle, his home city, Ujaama was sentenced to two years' prison for violation of his supervised release. Before U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein, he admitted four charges: that he had made a false statement to his parole officer, he had not followed a federal officer's instructions, he possessed a Mexican passport in the name of "Jose Luis Ramirez Ramirez" and he had exited the United States on December 5, 2006. Ujaama told Barbara Rothstein: "I'm very, very sorry."
On Friday August 10, 2007, Judge Rothstein ruled that by fleeing to Belize, Ujaama had voided the terms of his plea agreement. She signed an order nullifying the 2003 plea deal, opening the way for him to face serious terrorism charges.
When Ujaama appeared before U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan in Manhattan on Monday August 13th, he pleaded guilty to three counts of terrorism involvement and one of fleeing the U.S. to avoid giving testimony in terrorism cases. He admitted setting up a terror training camp in Bly, Oregon, in 1999, notifying Abu Hamza that he and others had begun to stockpile weapons and ammunition in the U.S. Ujaama also admitted that between June 2000 and December 19, 2001, he had attempted to raise funds for, and to provide assistance to, terrorists in Afghanistan.
Ujaama said that he had asked Hamza to send two of his associates to America to set up the training camp in Oregon. He told Judge Keenan that he had fled to Belize because he did not wish to testify against Abu Hamza al-Masri. Ujaama could face a total of 30 years' imprisonment. He will have to wait until December 12th to hear his sentencing order.
Abu Hamza is currently in Belmarsh prison in Britain, and has been fighting an 11-count U.S. extradition request which was issued against him on May 27, 2004. On February 7, 2006, Abu Hamza was sentenced to seven years' jail for soliciting murder. He had also been found guilty of possessing a terror manual – the Encyclopedia of Afghani Jihad. Hamza, imam at the Finsbury Park Mosque, had urged his followers to kill unbelievers:
"Killing the kafir [non-Muslim] for any reason you can say is okay even if there is no reason for it" and "The first phase is called the Shawkat al-Nekaya, it is called the needle of bleeding the enemy. Like you imagine you have one small knife and you have a big animal in front of you . . . You have to stab him here and there until he bleeds to death . . . This is the first stage of jihad, destruction of the enemies of Allah."
Under Britain's legal system, a prisoner with a fixed term jail sentence will generally spend half of that period incarcerated – unless the Home Secretary or a parole board intervenes. As Hamza had already been in custody prior to his conviction, he could be released next year. On January 1, 2007 the House of Lords rejected Hamza's appeal against his conviction for soliciting murder. In May, Hamza attended an extradition hearing, and his next hearing on this issue will be in October this year.
Eight of the eleven counts of the U.S. extradition order against Hamza refer to his involvement with Ujaama and others in the setting up of a training camp at Dog Cry Ranch in Bly, a hamlet 50 miles east of Klamath Falls in Klamath County, Oregon. These counts also refer to the funding of terrorism.
The remaining counts deal with Hamza's involvement in a kidnapping situation in Yemen, initiated by Abu al-Hassan, founder of the Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan on December 28, 1998. Sixteen Western hostages had been taken, and four of these (including three Britons) had been killed in a botched rescue mission. From his home in West London, Hamza had spoken to Abu al-Hassan on a newly-purchased satellite phone an hour after the hostages had been taken, with al-Hassan referring to "ordered goods." Hamza had asked for the hostages to be taken care of. The conversation had been recorded by Britain's listening center, the Government Communications Headquarters (GHQ), based in Cheltenham in Gloucestershire.
Under current British law, intercepted telephone conversations cannot be used in a court, but the FBI has maintained that these recorded conversations will feature in his prosecution. In April 2003, Yemeni officials had called for Hamza's extradition in connection with the kidnapping. Abu Hamza's son, Muhammad Mustapha Kamil (aka "Abu Antar") had arrived in Yemen on November 28,1998. In a confession, later retracted, he said Hamza had given him and another individual £3,000 ($6,000) to travel to Yemen to meet Abu al-Hussan, the leader of the Islamic Army of Aden-Abyan, whom the pair were expected to obey.
On August 9, 1999 in a court in Aden, Hamza's son (then aged 17) was convicted with seven other Britons of "Membership of an armed group and possession of weapons, explosives and unauthorized international communications devices, as well as starting to commit acts of sabotage against Yemeni and foreign interests in Aden." He received a three year jail term, and Abu Hamza's stepson Musin Ghailan (then aged 18) received a seven year sentence. At the close of the trial, the eight defendants cried out "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great).
In an earlier trial in Zinjibar, southern Yemen, Abu al-Hassan and two accomplices were convicted of the kidnappings on May 5, 1999, with all three given a death sentence. One of these later had his death sentence commuted to an eight year jail term. The day after the death sentences were announced, Abu Hamza was quoted as saying that anyone who executed the convicted kidnappers would become a "legitimate target" (for killing).
The U.S. extradition order against Abu Hamza features his alleged involvement in the Yemen kidnapping on three counts. In theory, if convicted, he could receive a death sentence. Britain opposes any extraditions to countries where an individual may receive such a punishment, unless an affidavit is made by the receiving country to not execute if convicted. Additionally, as phone tap evidence is not allowed in a U.K. court of law, the evidence against Hamza gained in this manner may be deemed unsustainable by defense lawyers. The U.S. is prepared to waive calls for execution to have Hamza placed before a court. If convicted on all charges in the indictment, Hamza could receive 100 years in jail.
Under the terms of U.K. law, the U.S. case for extradition is strongest on the eight counts for which Earnest James Ujaama had previously agreed to testify. There are now fears that Hamza could walk free when he is released from Belmarsh jail. However, extradition specialist Douglas McNabb believes that Ujaama's statements before U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan have helped the U.S. case. He said: "The U.S. has more information now that [it] can use to supplement the extradition requests."
James Ujaama had spent time at Abu Hamza's Finsbury Park Mosque in 1999. During his stay in Britain, he had also designed and maintained the website of Hamza's Islamist group, the "Supporters of Shariah." This website was used to promote anti-Western messages. Ujaama has a daughter by his Somali-born wife, and could be sentenced to up to three decades in prison, unable to see this daughter grow up. He has sacrificed his liberty because, as court transcripts attest, "Part of the reason I left the U.S. was to avoid having to... give testimony in the criminal matters against Abu Hamza and others."
In April 2003, after Ujaama had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply goods and services to the Taliban, U.S. Attorney John McKay said: "By accepting responsibility for his actions and by agreeing to cooperate fully with the United States government, Earnest James Ujaama will assist this nation and other nations in the fight against terrorism."
Ujaama has said that he does not wish to testify against Abu Hamza. He has not been reported as giving specific reasons for this decision. His Seattle-based lawyer, Peter Offenbecher, told the Manhattan District Court that Ujaama "alone is the person who made the bad choices and he will accept the consequences". This does not answer the most obvious question: why should Ujaama, four years on from his plea agreement, break his promise and risk 30 years' jail?
A life of promise
James Earnest Ujaama, who went under the alias of "Bilal Ahmed", Abu Samayya, and Abdul Qaadir, was born James Earnest Thompson in Denver, Colorado, in 1966. His family moved to Seattle, Washington state, when he was five years old. He attended Ingraham High School in North Seattle. While still a student, Ujaama displayed entrepreneurial spirit by running a home-maintenance business. At age 20, he worked with his younger brother Jon (Mustafa) in a business which sent its profits to children in Ethiopia. Later, the pair initiated a venture called Be Your Own Boss, No Drugs and Gangs. This attempted to encourage youth to avoid negative influences and set up their own businesses.
Ujaama produced three books, including one which was entitled "The Young People's Guide to Starting a Business Without Selling Drugs." He worked as special assistant to the black Democrat Jesse Wineberry during his bid for position as Senator. Wineberry rewarded him by naming June 10, 1994 as "James Ujaama Day" in Washington state. He was also acknowledged by Senator Harry Reid, who gave him a "Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition" and a key to the City of Las Vegas.
His conversion to Islam followed the example of his younger brother Jon, who had converted in 1990 while in the military and had changed his name to Mustafa Ujaama. He adopted his brother's adopted surname. Mustafa claims that James Ujaama did not become a full convert until as late as 1996, though it probably happened earlier (why would James Ujaama Day happen in 1994?). Mustafa and James Ujaama became strongly involved with Dar-us-Salaam mosque at 2211 Union Street, Seattle. This had started its existence in the early 1990s as the Yasin mosque, based at a small shop-front in East Cherry Street.
The Dar-us-Salaam mosque - since closed down - prided itself on taking young black people with prostitution and drug habits to come to the mosque and "reform" themselves. Despite this, the mosque's leadership was not as upright as it claimed. Mustafa Ujaama stated: "The FBI had been on us since '95, when we hooked up with Imam Jamil [Al-Amin]." This individual was the former Black Panther H. Rap Brown. It is alleged that the Ujaamas' father had ties with the Black Panthers.
The mosque ensured that smoking and drinking was forbidden in the mosque vicinity, and drug dealers were removed. Anyone who infringed this code was dealt with by mosque vigilantes, who would beat up offenders. After James Ujaama first traveled to Britain in 1997, the mosque became more militant. In November 2002 a convert, formerly known as Andre Anderson, was arrested on federal firearms charges. Abdul-Raheem Al-Arshad Ali had been a mosque leader at Yasin Mosque, the precursor of the Dar-us-Salaam mosque.
In 1999, Ali had been a guest at Abu Hamza's radical mosque in Finsbury Park, north London. Ali was accused of purchasing a handgun for Semi Osman, an individual with alleged al Qaeda links who had also been a leader of the Dar-us-Salaam mosque. The gun was purchased in September 1999, and was found at Osman's home during a raid which took place in May 2002. Osman pleaded guilty to a charge of illegally possessing a gun with an obliterated serial number in January 2003, and served time in prison.
Semi Osman, a man of Lebanese origin who came from Sierra Leone and had served as a mechanic in the Navy Reserves, had lived in Bly, Oregon as well as Tacoma. He inhabited the 158-acre Dog Cry Ranch. It is almost certainly through this individual that Bly had been selected as a location for the terror training camp. In December 1999, Osman's car had been stopped for a faulty brake light, and in the car with him were two individuals. These had been staying at Bly as Semi Osman's guests. These two individuals had been Hamza's alleged "emissaries," sent out to view the property in Bly as a potential site for a training camp. They are Haroon Rashid Aswat and Oussama Kassir. Initially, these two were named as unindicted co-conspirators in James Ujaama's indictment, but they have since been served their own indictments and extradition orders.
In 2005, Osman appealed against a court decision to deny him SSOSA (Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative) sentence reduction, a Washington state provision that allows reduced sentences for sex offenders who undergo treatment. He had been convicted of three counts of sexual abuse of a 10-year old child, to whom he had been related, and ordered to serve 51 months' jail. He served time in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla for this offense, and in January this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) succeeded in gaining a deportation order. Osman had earlier claimed that as he was a citizen of no country, he could not be deported.
When Semi Osman was arrested in May 2002, documents were found in his possession which detailed how to poison water supplies. These documents, according to federal investigators, had been provided by Abu Hamza. Similar computer documentation on poisoning water supplies was found when James Ujaama was arrested on July 22, 2002. These had been retrieved from the Denver home of Ujaama's aunt, Robin Thompson, where he had been staying. Ujaama's arrest had been made on the strength of a material witness warrant, issued in Virginia. Ujaama's mother Peggi Thompson, declared that her son was innocent.
James and Mustafa Ujaama had known that they were under suspicion, and three days before his arrest, James Ujaama issued a statement in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, claiming innocence and proclaiming his status as a public-minded citizen. He wrote: "In the case of my brother and I, we fully understand that the government has taken an unfair hostile position toward us because of our culture, race, religion, lifestyle, political beliefs and our travels."
On Wednesday August 28, 2002, a Grand Jury in Seattle ordered an indictment of James Ujaama. The former entrepreneur was charged with conspiring to "provide material support and resources" to al Qaeda, "using, carrying, possessing and discharging firearms during a crime of violence", in relation to the training camp in Bly Oregon. The full indictment can be found here.
In Part Two, I will discuss how Hamza and Ujaama liaised with each other to set up the camp in Oregon, their mutual associates, and their links with Afghanistan.