A fugitive terrorist suspect who allegedly led a "sleeper operational combat cell" centered in Detroit was arrested at a bus stop earlier this month in North Carolina, and is being transferred to Michigan to face federal terrorism charges there, authorities said yesterday.
The suspect, identified in federal court papers only as "Abdella," allegedly provided direction for three others who sought to buy weapons, obtain false identity documents and identify security breaches at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, according to court documents.
The men are allegedly members of Salafiyya and al-Takfir Wal Hijira, religious movements with members affiliated with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, and were plotting "violent attacks against persons and buildings within the territory of Jordan, Turkey and the United States," according to an indictment of them issued in August. The case was the first in which authorities said they had uncovered an active sleeper cell in the United States.
All four were accused of supporting terror and document fraud, but Abdella has been a fugitive until now. Two others -- Karim Koubriti and Ahmed Hannan -- have been in federal custody since the FBI raided their Dearborn, Mich., apartment in September 2001. The fourth member of the group, Farouk Ali-Haimoud, was arrested at the same time. He was released a short time later but re-arrested in April.
Koubriti, Hannan and Ali-Hammoud pleaded not guilty to the charges in September.
Abdella was arrested Nov. 5 in Greensboro, N.C., as he waited to board a bus out of town, law enforcement sources said. Authorities declined to say how he was identified, or where he was headed.
Lynne Klauer, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Greensboro, said Abdella appeared before a magistrate and waived his right to a detention hearing. Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Detroit, said Abdella could be arraigned as early as today.
The Associated Press reported that the man was identified in court papers as Abel-llah Elmardoudi, 36, of Minneapolis. Court documents in Minneapolis show that a man with a simliar name, Abdel-llah Elmardoudi, was arrested more than a year ago and charged with stealing telephone calling-card numbers by peering over people's shoulders at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.
Abdella is believed to be from Morocco. He lived primarily in the Chicago area in recent years and is suspected of being a regular visitor to the Dearborn apartment during that time, law enforcement officials said.
Among the items seized there were a videotape that contained surveillance footage of Disneyland and other U.S. landmarks, as well as the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, according to the indictment. Authorities also found a day planner containing sketches of a U.S. airbase in Turkey and notes about a planned December 2000 trip to the base by then-Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, who canceled the visit over concerns about a terrorist threat.
In addition, the indictment says, the group attempted to "directly access airlines" for possible terrorist activity. Koubriti and Hannan worked in the kitchen of an airline catering firm in the summer of 2001. Abdella is described in the indictment as an expert in airport security operations.
Much of the government's case against the alleged cell members appears to depend on the cooperation of Youssef Hmimssa, who was also named in the indictment but is not listed within the body of the document. Hmimssa began cooperating with federal authorities after his arrest on credit card fraud charges and has been characterized as an important source of information about the group.
A trial for Koubriti, Hannan and Ali-Haimoud is scheduled for Jan. 21.