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Three accused of al Qaeda links appear in court

All six indicted on charges of conspiracy

Top row, left to right: Patrice Lumumba Ford, October Martinique Lewis and Jeffrey Leon Battle. Bottom row, left to right: Muhammad Ibrahim Bilal, Ahmed Ibrahim Bilal, and Habis Abdulla Al-Saoub are seen in these undated handout photos.
Top row, left to right: Patrice Lumumba Ford, October Martinique Lewis and Jeffrey Leon Battle. Bottom row, left to right: Muhammad Ibrahim Bilal, Ahmed Ibrahim Bilal, and Habis Abdulla Al-Saoub are seen in these undated handout photos.

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CNN's Kelli Arena reports on six U.S. residents charged with conspiring to assist al Qaeda and the Taliban in waging war against the U.S. (October 4)
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PORTLAND, Oregon (CNN) -- Three of the six U.S. residents charged with conspiring to assist al Qaeda and the Taliban in waging war against the United States made initial appearances in federal court Friday.

Patrice Lumumba Ford entered a plea of not guilty on all charges in Portland, Oregon, while Jeffrey Leon Battle, a former Army reservist, and his ex-wife, October Martinique Lewis, did not enter pleas, pending appointment of attorneys to represent them.

Another hearing for Battle and Lewis was set for Monday.

"We've neutralized a suspected terrorist cell within our borders," Attorney General John Ashcroft told a news conference announcing the arrests earlier on Friday. (Read Aschcroft transcript)

After the September 11 attacks, Ashcroft said, the group "acquired various firearms and engaged in weapons training and physical training in preparation to fight a jihad." He refused to give specifics about what weapons they had obtained.

They left the country and attempted to get into Afghanistan where they planned to join al Qaeda and the Taliban in "fighting against the United States and allied soldiers," Ashcroft said.

Ashcroft identified the six as Battle, his ex-wife Lewis, Ford, Habis Abdulla Al-Saoub, and brothers Ahmed Ibrahim Bilal and Muhammad Ibrahim Bilal.

Five are American-born U.S. citizens. Al-Saoub is Jordanian. He was living in the United States legally. All six used to live in Portland.

Ashcroft said Battle, the former reservist, had obtained an administrative discharge in January.

Lewis stayed home and transferred money to support the five men, Ashcroft said.

They had difficulty getting into Afghanistan, and three of them -- Battle, Ford, and Muhammad Bilal -- returned to the United States in late 2001 and early 2002, Ashcroft said.

Ahmed Bilal and Al-Saoub remain at large. Sources told CNN that authorities do not know what country they are in. Authorities are not saying whether they made it into Afghanistan.

The indictment, filed Thursday, charges all six with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to contribute services to al Qaeda and the Taliban, and conspiracy to wage war against the United States.

Four of the six also face charges of possessing and discharging firearms in support of a crime. That charge stems from an incident in which four of the men were caught firing weapons at a gravel pit in Portland.

There was also a fifth man there that night, Kahled Ali Steitiye, who is named in the indictment as an "unindicted co-conspirator." Steitiye was arrested by the Joint Terrorism Task Force several months ago and convicted of felony possession of firearms and fraud. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

The sheriff who caught the men firing the weapons later called the joint terrorism task force. Officials said the information the sheriff provided was extremely helpful in leading authorities to the group indicted Friday.

Ashcroft called the case a "textbook example" of local, state, and federal authorities working together to crack down on terror.

The manager of the Westport Square Apartments in Portland, where some of the suspects lived, said FBI agents had been living on the property since June, "so I knew they were under surveillance."

But Nicole Cunningham said the suspects "seemed to be very nice people," waving and stopping to chat when they dropped off their rent.

Law enforcement sources told CNN the six are not connected to James Ujaama, who is in custody on charges of trying to create an al Qaeda training camp in Bly, Oregon.

Noting the guilty plea of Richard Reid, who tried to set off a bomb hidden in his shoe on a trans-Atlantic flight last December, and the sentencing of John Walker Lindh, Ashcroft called Friday "a defining day in America's war against terrorism."

If convicted, the six could face life in prison.



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