By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 1, 2009
A sleeper agent who arrived in the United States a day before Sept. 11, 2001, pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring with al-Qaeda operatives, revealing new details about his clandestine activities and the danger he posed.
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, 43, faces as many as 15 years in prison when he is sentenced this summer. But he could serve far less time if a judge gives him credit for time served -- nearly two years awaiting trial in a fraud case and 5 1/2 additional years the Qatari national spent without charges in a U.S. naval brig as the sole "enemy combatant" on U.S. soil.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. rejected efforts by defense attorneys to reduce Marri's prison time, a Justice Department official said, and prosecutors will argue against Marri getting credit for his brig time at the sentencing hearing in July.
In a statement, the attorney general said the deal "reflects what we can achieve when we have faith in our criminal justice system and are unwavering in our commitment to the values upon which this nation was founded and the rule of law."
Accompanying Marri's plea deal was a statement of facts detailing his contacts with senior al-Qaeda officials and his plans within the United States.
The statement said that between 1998 and 2001, Marri attended terrorist training camps where he learned tradecraft such as prearranged codes to hide telephone numbers and e-mail messages.
In 2001, Marri was approached by Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an operations chief for al-Qaeda, about assisting al-Qaeda operations in the United States, according to court documents, many of which were obtained by federal investigators who had seized an address book at an al-Qaeda safe house in Pakistan.
Marri knew at the time that he was providing himself to al-Qaeda to further their terrorist objectives, the documents said.
Marri was instructed by Mohammed to arrive in the United States no later than Sept. 10, 2001, with an understanding that he was to remain in the country for an undetermined length of time.
As part of the deal, Marri also agreed that an almanac that investigators recovered from his home "was bookmarked at pages showing dams, waterways and tunnels in the United States, consistent with al Qaeda attack planning regarding the use of cyanide gases."
Some hard-liners on national security issues howled at the plea agreement, arguing that it set an "unacceptably low standard" for prison terms for other accused terrorists.
"Marri will be receiving the same sentence as a person tried for identity theft or fraud even though he reportedly met with Osama bin Laden, was assigned to sabotage the U.S. financial system and possessed information on computer hacking, creating false driver's licenses and other false identification cards," said retired Cmdr. Kirk S. Lippold, a senior fellow at Military Families United.