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From community activist to alleged terror conspirator

James Ujaama
James Ujaama  


SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) For years, James Ujaama was known as a prominent community activist in Seattle, working to help the city's poor and promoting entrepreneurship as a way up the economic ladder.

Ujaama, a 36-year-old U.S. citizen whose birth name is James Earnest Thompson, has written at least three books on how to succeed in business, including one titled, "The Young People's Guide to Starting a Business Without Selling Drugs."

In a 1991 profile, The Seattle Times newspaper called him a role model. On June 10, 1994, then-state Rep. Jesse Wineberry issued a certificate declaring James Ujaama Day in the state of Washington.

But, according to U.S. authorities, there is another side to Ujaama.

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A federal indictment charges Ujaama with conspiring to aid Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network since 1999. The indictment says part of the conspiracy was to establish a training camp in Oregon for terrorists to prepare for "violent jihad."

According to the indictment, Ujaama also established one or more Web sites that advocated beliefs "concerning the need to conduct global violent jihad against the United States of America and other Western nations."

In a statement released by his attorney Wednesday, Ujaama said, "If I have broken any laws and am guilty of crimes against the American people, then I must be held accountable. The fact is that I am innocent of any wrongdoing and am fully prepared to face my accusers and defend myself in a court of law."

Ujaama's uncle told The Seattle Times that Ujaama converted to Islam in the mid-1990s.

Ujaama has attended several mosques that have been investigated to determine whether some attendees were part of an al Qaeda cell operating in the United States, according to a law enforcement source. He has lived in both Seattle and London in recent years.

Sources describe Ujaama as a "smaller fish" caught in a larger investigation of Sheikh Abu Hamza, a radical British cleric who has praised the September 11 terror attacks. Investigators believe Hamza is actually a senior al Qaeda recruiter, an allegation he denies.

While in London on one trip, Ujaama attended the Finsbury Mosque, where Hamza preaches, officials have said. Zacarias Moussaoui -- the only person facing a public U.S. trial in connection with the September 11 attacks -- and Richard Reid, who is accused of trying to blow up a flight with explosives in his shoes, also have attended the mosque.

Ujaama also traveled to Afghanistan in 1999 to study Islamic code, according to family friends.

Earlier this month, his brother, Mustafa Ujaama, said his brother's travels should not raise suspicions, and that it was "completely, completely impossible" he has ties to terrorism.

"James Ujaama's biggest problem is that he's so damn inquisitive that he'll go anywhere, anyplace, anytime," Charlie James, a family friend, told the Denver Post. "I think that's what got him into trouble."

Friends and family have spoken out against Ujaama's indictment.

"This is a big shock," his mother, Peggi Thompson, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. "I thought things would be dismissed in his favor."

A family spokeswoman was critical of the handling of the case, claiming Ujaama has been held secretly and indefinitely as a material witness.

"James had been more than happy to cooperate with a grand jury," family spokeswoman Leila McDowell told CNN. "He had said he would be happy to testify and give any information that he might know that might be relevant."



 
 
 
 


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