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Oregon man charged with conspiracy to levy war against U.S.

Maher Hawash
Maher Hawash

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal authorities charged a seventh person Monday with plotting to aid al Qaeda and Taliban forces fighting U.S. soldiers after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Charges were filed Monday against Maher Hawash, a 39-year-old software engineer and U.S. citizen living in the Portland, Oregon, area.

Hawash, who has been held as a material witness, was charged with conspiracy to levy war against the United States, conspiracy to provide services to the Taliban and al Qaeda and conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terror organizations, the Justice Department said.

In a 41-page affidavit filed along with a criminal complaint in U.S. District Court in Portland, an FBI agent attached to the joint terrorism task force alleged that Hawash had traveled to China in an attempt to gain entrance into Afghanistan to fight U.S. forces after September 11, 2001.

When Hawash was unable to enter Afghanistan, he returned to the United States and, when questioned, told officials he had traveled to China for business purposes, the agent said.

The Justice Department said Hawash was part of a Portland-based group of six other suspects who have already been charged in the alleged plan.

Jeffrey Leon Battle, Patrice Lumumba Ford, Ahmed Abrahim Bilal, Muhammad Imbrahim Bilal, Abdullah Al Saoub, and October Martinique Lewis were indicted by a federal grand jury in Oregon on the charges last October. All are in custody except Al Saoub, a Jordanian who remains at large.

Hawash's neighbors became suspicious after the September 11 terrorist attacks and called the FBI, according to the affidavit. One of the neighbors said Hawash, who worked for Intel, was "spending more time at home following September 11, 2001" and "was not as friendly as usual."

"Following a visit by Hawash's mother in the spring of 2001, Hawash changed his attire from 'Western' clothing to 'Eastern' clothing, grew a beard and distanced himself from his neighbors," one neighbor said.

The affidavit said a subsequent FBI investigation showed Hawash left the United States on October 24, 2001, for Hong Kong and Beijing, hoping to enter Pakistan and then Afghanistan. The document said no evidence was found substantiating Hawash's claim that he was on a business trip to China.

In recent months Hawash's friends have mounted a campaign to draw attention to his imprisonment and the secrecy surrounding it. Hawash's friends and colleagues had started a legal defense fund for his benefit. He has been in custody about six weeks.

Prior to the release of the criminal complaint Monday, government officials had refused to discuss the circumstances around Hawash's imprisonment.

Government sources had told CNN that investigators were looking into possible connections between Hawash and the six others charged with providing material support to al Qaeda. Sources said Hawash attended the same mosque as two of those defendants.

However, Hawash's alleged effort to join the co-conspirators to help the Taliban fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan was not previously disclosed.

Federal prosecutors had faced a deadline of Tuesday set by a federal judge to interview Hawash, and a hearing in federal court had been set for then.

-- CNN's Kelli Arena, Terry Frieden and Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.

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