By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 8, 2007
A former sailor was arrested yesterday in Phoenix on federal charges of providing material support for a conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals amid allegations that he sent classified information about a U.S. Navy battle group's movements in the Middle East to a terrorist Web site in early 2001.
Paul R. Hall, 31, allegedly used his position aboard the USS Benfold and his secret clearance to forward details of the battle group's defensive capabilities and how the ships were going to cross the Strait of Hormuz in April 2001. Federal officials wrote in a criminal complaint that Hall -- who is referred to as Hassan Abujihaad throughout the document -- was contacting the Web site to order jihad videos and supported the terrorist mission of attacking American targets such as the USS Cole.
The case is unusual because Hall is alleged to have had many e-mail contacts with Britons who ran the Web site while he was at sea, and appears to have passed along information that could have aided in an attack on his own battle group. Hall allegedly sent money to order videos and corresponded with the now-defunct Web site -- http://www.azzam.com-- from a private e-mail account and his official military account.
"Abujihaad described a recent force protection briefing given aboard his ship, voiced enmity toward America, praised Usama bin Laden and the mujahideen, praised the October 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole -- which Abujihaad described as a 'martyrdom operation' -- and advised the members of Azzam Publications that such tactics were working and taking their toll," according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Kevin J. O'Connor's office in the District of Connecticut. The response from the Web site allegedly encouraged Hall's efforts.
Hall appeared in a Phoenix courtroom yesterday afternoon and consented to allow federal officials to move him to Connecticut, where there are federal terrorism charges pending against the Web site owners, Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan. Both of them are facing extradition from the United Kingdom.
A spokesman for O'Connor said that Hall was represented by the federal public defender's office in Phoenix yesterday, and that it is unclear whether Hall has secured a lawyer in Connecticut.
The charges against Hall emanate largely from a classified naval document found on a computer hard drive during a raid on a home in Britain.
At the time the document was forwarded to the Web site, it would have been classified because it contained detailed information about where and when the U.S. ships were moving.
The document also suggests possible places to intercept the ships, such as ports in Australia and when the ships were to enter the Persian Gulf.
Some of Hall's e-mails appear benign, while others praise the work of terrorist organizations and their ability to scare top U.S. officials and the American public just months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He identifies himself as a Muslim in one message and has jihad videos sent to his family's home in California and to his ship.
The battle group was not attacked during its mission to enforce no-fly zones in Iraq and to patrol the Gulf.
FBI agents also describe a pattern of what they call suspicious activities after Hall was honorably discharged in January 2002.
The agents wrote in charging documents that Hall lived in Phoenix with Derrick Shareef, who later allegedly tried to obtain weapons to commit a terrorist act in a shopping mall in the United States. Shareef introduced another man, whom officials did not identify, to Hall, and Hall allegedly tried to buy two assault rifles from the man for $1,300.
In a recorded conversation, Hall played down his contact with the Web site, according to charging documents.
"I corresponded with an e-mail site," Hall allegedly said. "It wasn't nothin' top secret like these people are saying, you know what I mean? I was just talking about, like the Cole . . . whatever."