Relatives of a Falls Church man detained in Saudi Arabia for more than a year said they were told yesterday by the U.S. State Department that the Saudis plan to charge him soon with supporting terrorism.
News of the possible charges was delivered just hours after the parents of Ahmed Abu Ali, 23, filed a petition in federal court in Washington seeking his release and arguing that U.S. officials are responsible for his lengthy detention.
Abu Ali's mother, Faten Abu Ali, said that at 3:26 p.m. she took a call from State Department employee Leigh Rieder, who told her that "according to the FBI in Riyadh, the Saudi government is planning to bring charges against your son shortly. The charges are regarding providing support to terrorism."
Asked to confirm this information, the Saudi embassy said in an e-mail that the following statement had been issued by a senior Saudi official: Abu Ali "is being detained with the full knowledge and support of the US government. There is an ongoing investigation regarding this individual. At this time, we have received no request for extradition."
Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA, a human rights group assisting Abu Ali's family with its court petition, said U.S. officials were attempting to deflect responsibility for Abu Ali's jailing.
"This is their last-minute effort to avoid the allegations that they are responsible for Ahmed's long-term detention by getting the Saudi government to file charges against him now," Sklar said.
Kelly Shannon, a spokeswoman for the State Department's consular services, said she was unable to comment on the call because "we don't have a Privacy Act waiver" from Abu Ali to give information about his case.
Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates issued an order in the family's habeas corpus petition, directing the U.S. officials named in it to respond within 30 days. Those officials include Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
Ahmed Abu Ali, a U.S. citizen who was born in Texas, was arrested while studying in Saudi Arabia in June 2003. His family has said that if he has done something wrong, he should be tried in a U.S. court.
U.S. officials' interest in Abu Ali appears to stem from alleged ties to some of the 11 Northern Virginia men accused in federal court in Alexandria of undertaking paramilitary training to wage "violent jihad" on behalf of Muslims abroad. Two of those men were also accused of conspiring to support al Qaeda.
Three of the defendants, all U.S. citizens, were arrested in Saudi Arabia at the same time as Abu Ali and brought back to the United States. Of the 11, six entered pleas, three were convicted at trial and two were acquitted. Abu Ali was not charged in the Alexandria case.