A Falls Church man accused of conspiring to kill President Bush in an al Qaeda plot said he was motivated by disgust with the U.S. government's support for Israel, according to a videotaped statement he made to Saudi authorities.
The 13-minute videotape was shown yesterday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria during a pretrial hearing on whether to admit statements allegedly made by Ahmed Omar Abu Ali after his arrest in Saudi Arabia in June 2003. Defense attorneys have argued that the 24-year-old American was tortured into making false confessions.
Abu Ali's statements to Saudi interrogators are central to the case, in which he is accused of conspiracy to kill Bush and other acts of terrorism. Prosecutors have maintained that he was not tortured. The tape was played so that Judge Gerald Bruce Lee could see Abu Ali's expression during the questioning.
Abu Ali is the son of Jordanian immigrants and spent most of his life in the Washington area before going to Medina, Saudi Arabia, to pursue religious studies.
On the video, made in July 2003, Abu Ali described an offer he allegedly received from an al Qaeda activist in Saudi Arabia to join the fight against the United States.
"I immediately accepted because of my hatred of the U.S., for what I felt was its support of Israel against the Palestinian people," he said.
Prosecutors have contended that the tape shows Abu Ali relaxed and joking and even gesturing as though using a weapon. The defense maintains he was reading a phony confession prepared by the Saudis. Prosecutors said previously in court documents that Saudi officials drew up a written confession for Abu Ali based on his alleged admissions.
"The video clearly shows a sleep-deprived individual somewhere between exhausted and giddy," defense attorney Khurrum Wahid said after the hearing.
Much of yesterday's hearing revolved around an earlier interrogation of Abu Ali, in a Riyadh prison June 15, 2003, that was conducted by a Saudi intelligence agent and witnessed by FBI agents behind a two-way mirror.
FBI agents testified that Saudi officials rejected their request to interview Abu Ali directly about comments he allegedly made days earlier about a plan to kill Bush. The Saudis, however, allowed the FBI to submit six questions that were posed to Abu Ali, the agents said.
Wahid suggested that the FBI used the Saudi interrogators as surrogates so Abu Ali would not be advised of his rights under U.S. law to remain silent or request an attorney. Wahid questioned the agents on why they had not included a mention of those rights in their list of questions.
"You did that in order to deliberately circumvent his U.S. constitutional rights?" Wahid asked FBI Special Agent Glenn Posto.
"I didn't deliberately do that to circumvent anything," Posto said.
Earlier, when asked a similar question, Maria Jocys, another FBI agent , said that Abu Ali was not the subject of a criminal investigation at that point. "Our interest was not that we were going to prosecute Mr. Abu Ali. Our interest was to find out what threat information he had," she said.
Under questioning by prosecutor David Laufman, Posto and an FBI translator said they saw no signs that Abu Ali was injured or suffering during the June 15 interrogation, during which he discussed with a Saudi official his intention to kill Bush, according to the FBI. "He looked healthy and normal," said Posto, who described Abu Ali as occasionally jovial.
Wahid questioned that conclusion, pointing to an earlier document presented by prosecutors that described Abu Ali arriving at the interrogation hooded and in shackles.
Defense attorneys have said in court papers that two doctors who examined Abu Ali found evidence that he was tortured in Saudi Arabia.
Prosecutors have said that a U.S. doctor who evaluated him on his return from Saudi Arabia in February to face terrorism charges found no evidence of mistreatment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.