Convicted terrorist plotter testifies in Oregon jihad camp conspiracy trial
May 1, 2009
In conspiracy trial, dark tale emerges of jihad training
By Mike Carter
Seattle Times staff reporter
NEW YORK — Speaking publicly for the first time, former Seattle resident James Ujaama testified Tuesday about his efforts in 1999 to create a terrorist training camp in rural Oregon for would-be jihad warriors wishing to take up the fight against the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.
Among the instructors would be Oussama Kassir, a Swedish jihadist who once bragged he had been a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.
Ujaama, appearing thin and graying and dressed in oversized prison overalls, took the witness stand in the terrorism conspiracy trial of Kassir, who is accused of traveling from London to the barren ranch in Bly, Ore., to help set up the training camp.
Ujaama is a key prosecution witness in Kassir's federal trial, having already pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. He told the U.S. District Court jury in Manhattan that he hopes to get a "significant reduction" in his sentence in exchange for his testimony against Kassir. He faces up to 30 years.
"The best shrapnel"
Several other former and current Seattle witnesses also testified that they met Kassir and another man, Harroon Aswat, either at the Bly property or at the now-defunct Masjid Dar-us-Salaam mosque in Seattle's Central Area where the men stayed for about two months in the fall of 1999. Their testimony paints a darker portrait of those events than previously acknowledged by authorities or those involved.
Nathan Bishop, now 29 and living in Bahrain, was a member of the Masjid Dar-us-Salaam mosque in 1999, when he went by the name Abu Sufian. He said he attended a meeting at the Central Area apartment of another member in late 1999, where Kassir, flanked by Aswat, said he had come to the U.S. "to plan attacks [and] ... destroy."
"He said people are going to get hurt and people are going to die and that some of us would become martyrs," said Bishop, who testified that Ujaama was not at that meeting.
Still, he said, nearly a dozen people were there — most young, black Muslims — and Kassir told them that if they didn't want to be involved, now was the time to get up and leave.
"Nobody walked out," Bishop said.
At another meeting at the mosque — after Kassir had shown them how to field-strip an AK-47 automatic rifle — Bishop said the topic of suicide bombers came up. Kassir "said suicide operations are acceptable."
"He said human bones are the best shrapnel," Bishop said.
Horses and jihad
Ujaama took the stand late in the afternoon and was walked through his conversion to Islam in the late 1980s and how he gravitated to Muslim preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri through a series of other increasingly radical Islamic preachers.
Abu Hamza is serving a seven-year sentence in Britain for inciting his followers to kill nonbelievers and has been indicted in the U.S. on 11 charges related to the planned development of the Bly site and for sending cash and volunteers to support al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Eventually, Ujaama moved to London and studied, prayed and worked at Abu Hamza's Finsbury Park mosque, he said.
He returned to Seattle several times and said he was introduced to the Masjid Dar-us-Salaam mosque through his brother, Mustafa. It was there that he met the imam, a man named Semi Osman, who eventually took him to the Bly property, where Osman, his wife and another Islamic couple were living.
After visiting the 360-acre hardscrabble-and-hills ranch in Oregon in 1999, Ujaama sent a fax to Abu Hamza from a Kinko's in Tukwila. Ujaama, who has been described in testimony as a "businessman" and a "wheeler-dealer," started the fax off with a flier to distribute to Muslims at the Finsbury Park mosque, considered a hotbed of radical Islam in the Britain and Western Europe.
The flier for the camp promised firearms training and lessons in hand-to-hand combat, horse riding and archery, as well as Quran study sessions, all for about 600 British pounds, or about $878 U.S. There they would learn tactics to fight the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.
Ujaama also suggested that Abu Hamza himself eventually come to the property "as an attraction."
Ujaama's testimony will resume today, when he will face cross-examination by Kassir's attorneys.