A Falls Church man charged with conspiring with al Qaeda to kill President Bush told Saudi interrogators that he dreamed up the plot on his own but that it never got past the "idea stage," prosecutors say in court documents unsealed yesterday.
"I wanted to be the brain, the planner" of the assassination, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali is quoted as saying. He likened himself to Mohamed Atta, who led the terror cell that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to the court papers, which quote from an FBI report detailing Abu Ali's interrogation by Saudi security officials while he was detained in the kingdom in June 2003.
"My idea was . . . I would walk on the street as the President walked by, and I would get close enough to shoot him, or I would use a car bomb," Abu Ali is quoted as saying.
Abu Ali, 24, also said during the same interrogation that he "wanted to be in al Qaeda so bad that I decided to go to Afghanistan for jihad." He said he was unable to get a visa to travel there but did join an al Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia.
The court filings were unsealed the same day as a federal judge in the District dismissed a civil lawsuit that Abu Ali's parents filed against the U.S. government last year. The lawsuit was part of a highly public campaign by Abu Ali's family to win his release from Saudi custody. It asked the court to order that Abu Ali be returned to the United States and alleged that U.S. authorities were involved in his imprisonment there and expected he would be tortured.
But U.S. District Judge John D. Bates said the issues raised by the lawsuit were moot because Abu Ali is back in the United States and in custody on the criminal charges. Bates said his ruling does not prevent the family from filing another civil suit over Abu Ali's treatment.
Morton Sklar, an attorney for Abu Ali's parents, said the civil lawsuit is not moot. "The issues of Ahmed's unlawful detention in Saudi Arabia for 20 months and his torture in Saudi Arabia are highly relevant to his criminal case," said Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA, which filed the lawsuit. He would not say whether the ruling will be appealed.
Abu Ali is charged in U.S. District Court in Alexandria with conspiracy to kill Bush and other terrorism counts. Prosecutors say he has admitted to plotting with al Qaeda to conduct a Sept. 11-style terrorist attack in the United States.
Defense attorneys are also pursuing the torture allegation in the criminal case, arguing that any statements Abu Ali made while in Saudi custody were obtained through torture. Two doctors who examined Abu Ali found evidence that he was tortured in Saudi Arabia, including scars on his back consistent with having been whipped, defense attorneys have said in court papers.
Abu Ali was arrested by Saudi security officials in June 2003 while he was studying at a university in the country. He was held until he was charged in the United States in February. Prosecutors have denied that Abu Ali was tortured. The issue is critical to the case, because if a federal judge concludes that Abu Ali was tortured, much of the evidence against him could be thrown out.
In their response to Abu Ali's motion to throw out his confession and other evidence, prosecutors wrote that several Saudi security officials have already testified that Abu Ali was "treated in a respectful and humane manner while in Saudi custody." That same filing contained the additional details of Abu Ali's interrogations.