Harun has been cooperating with federal authorities since they first questioned him in Italy. And with the consent of his two defense lawyers, the government asked a federal judge to keep Harun’s indictment under seal so it could “take full advantage” of the information he was providing.
Disclosure of Harun’s detention comes two weeks after U.S. authorities said they had captured a former spokesman for al-Qaeda and secretly transferred him to New York to face a criminal trial.
Italian authorities supported the U.S. extradition on the condition that Harun be brought before a civilian court and not be held in military custody or tried in a military commission. Last October, Britain laid down the same conditions when it
extradited five terrorism suspects
, underscoring European skepticism about the use of military tribunals against al-Qaeda suspects.
According to the government motion to seal the court proceedings, which was made public Wednesday, Harun had been in contact with “numerous prominent al-Qaeda leaders, trainers and fighters” over the past 12 years, as well as with many members of extremist groups in Africa that are “affiliated with al-Qaeda or otherwise target Westerners.”
U.S. concern about terrorist groups in Africa has surged in recent months in the wake of an attack on Westerners working at a natural-gas facility in Algeria, the rise of Islamist extremists in Mali and North Africa, and an ongoing Islamist insurgency in Nigeria.
The peripatetic Harun is a citizen of Niger who was born in Saudi Arabia. He moved to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to court documents, and fought against U.S. forces in Afghanistan with a Pakistan-based group until he was wounded. In 2003, he traveled from Pakistan to Nigeria to attack U.S. diplomatic facilities, according to court documents.
When one of his alleged co-conspirators was arrested, Harun left Nigeria for Niger and then crossed into Libya, where he was detained and held from 2005 until 2011, when he was released. It is unclear whether he was freed when the regime of Moammar Gaddafi released some prisoners or whether the facility where he was held was taken over by rebels.
In June 2011, Harun was put on a refugee boat bound for Italy, but he assaulted Italian officers while at sea and declared himself a member of al-Qaeda. He was arrested on the ship.
He was indicted in New York in February 2012, and the Naples Court of Appeals ordered his extradition in July 2012; the proceedings in Italy were open but drew no attention.
Over three days in September, in the presence of his Italian lawyer and having waived his Miranda right to remain silent, Harun was interviewed by the FBI in Italy before he was taken to New York in October.
Those voluntary interviews appear to have continued in New York, and the unsealing of the indictment Wednesday could be the prelude to a plea agreement. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Harun has a court appearance scheduled for Friday.