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Seattle man will remain in prison awaiting trial on terror charges

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SEATTLE (CNN) -- A judge refused Tuesday to release James Ujaama, held since July as a material witness in a terrorism investigation, before his trial, despite arguments by his attorneys that he is not a threat and is living in poor conditions in prison.

Government attorneys said the former Seattle man had ties to terrorists and was likely to flee to Canada if he were to be released. U.S. Magistrate Judge John Weinberg sided with them, saying the defense had not presented acceptable evidence to the contrary.


Ujaama's defense attorneys complained that their client is being held in solitary confinement for all but five hours a week in the Federal Detention Center SeaTac, and is allowed only one 15-minute personal telephone call every 30 days. They complained the prison is unreasonably cold and that Ujaama is not being given any hot liquids.

The situation is "very demoralizing" for Ujaama, said his lawyer, Peter Offenbecher.

The arguments apparently prompted the judge to schedule a hearing Thursday on whether the parties can work out a compromise on Ujaama's conditions in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg said the conditions in the prison were "not designed to single out the defendant in any way," and that the environment was "a long-standing procedure instituted in all such cases."

Ujaama, a U.S. citizen, was indicted in August by a federal grand jury in Seattle after an investigation into activities and members of a now-defunct Seattle mosque. He has denied any links to terrorism.

Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Hamilton said Ujaama should be detained because he had studied under radical London cleric Abu Hamza and had "facilitated" his activities. Hamilton said the defendant trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, saying Ujaama had "assisted the enemy."

Defense attorney Bob Mahler said "there is not a stitch of evidence" to support Hamilton's claims. Mahler said the United States was relying on "alleged confidential informants" to build their case against his client.

Ujaama, Mahler said, was a positive influence in the Seattle community in the 1980s and 90s, talking to youths about the "American dream" and advising at-risk youths not to abuse drugs or alcohol.

Ujaama, a 36-year-old whose birth name is James Earnest Thompson, is known in Seattle for his work with the poor and for promoting entrepreneurship, having written three books on the subject. A 1991 profile in The Seattle Times called him a role model, and a state representative in 1994 even gave Ujaama his own day in the state.

Mahler cited letters from community leaders vouching for Ujaama's good will. In one letter from Ujaama's grandmother, she wrote, "James may be many things, but he's not a terrorist."

Defense attorneys promised that if released, Ujaama would wear electronic monitors and stay at his grandmother's house.

The judge tossed aside the argument, saying all the documentation supported Ujaama's activities through 1997, and that "people change."

"The government submitted persuasive evidence," Weinberg said, that Ujaama directly assisted in setting up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore. -- to which his Ujaama's indictment refers -- and that he set up a Web site promoting "the terrorist agenda."

There is evidence, the judge said, showing Ujaama has exhibited "dangerous conduct in the past several years."

In court Tuesday, Ujaama wore a light-blue shirt buttoned all the way up and appeared sad when his brother's wife, dressed in a burqa, began wailing after a recess.

Several of his family members filled the courtroom.

-- CNN Newsource Correspondent Lillian Kim contributed to this report.

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