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Man pleads innocent to al Qaeda aid in Bush plot

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

A drawing shows Ahmed Abu Ali in court last month.
Indictment:  U.S. v. Abu Ali  (FindLaw, PDF)external link
Saudi Arabia
George W. Bush
United States
Acts of terror

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- A U.S. citizen accused of participating in a plot to kill President Bush pleaded not guilty Monday to providing support to al Qaeda.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee set an August 22 trial date for Ahmed Abu Ali after the defendant entered the not guilty pleas to charges of providing material support and to terror conspiracy.

Abu Ali, 23, stood silently in a green prison jump suit as his attorney entered the plea on his behalf and requested a trial by jury rather than by a judge.

Federal prosecutors allege Abu Ali plotted to assassinate Bush and to carry out other terror plots on behalf of al Qaeda.

According to the six-count indictment, Abu Ali "did knowingly and unlawfully conspire to knowingly provide material support and resources ... knowing and intending that they were to be used in preparation for, and for carrying out, the assassination of the president of the United States." (More on the case)

Abu Ali remains in pretrial detention.

Abu Ali was arrested in Saudi Arabia in June 2003 and remained imprisoned there without charges for 20 months. He has alleged torture while in Saudi custody. Saudi and U.S. officials have denied the allegation.

Authorities brought him back from Saudi Arabia last month to face the U.S. charges.

The case generated controversy after Abu Ali's family filed a lawsuit last year against the U.S. government, alleging that American authorities had asked for his arrest. U.S. officials have denied that assertion.

Torture allegations

In court Monday, federal prosecutor David Laufman said the trial would require non-U.S. witnesses and the use of classified material. Laufman asked for a delay until October for the trial.

But Ashraf Nubani, an attorney representing Abu Ali, told the court he wanted the trial to begin promptly. He criticized the U.S. government for trying to delay the case after his client already has been held without charges for 20 months in a Saudi prison at the request of U.S. officials.

"They've had complete access to him for 20 months," Nubani complained to the judge. "They want time to concoct a case."

Shaker El Sayed, a local Muslim leader and Abu Ali family friend, told reporters the case against Abu Ali was based on a confession to Saudi authorities he termed "laughable."

"They didn't have the evidence. They don't have the evidence. The fishing expedition continues," he said.

Nubani told the court he would file a motion asking for "medical and psychological evaluations" of Abu Ali, and repeated the assertion his client had been tortured in Saudi custody.

El Sayed told reporters outside the courthouse that four attorneys had seen the marks on Abu Ali's back between his shoulder blades, and said it is evidence of Saudi torture.

U.S. prosecutors and Saudi authorities adamantly deny Abu Ali was abused while in Saudi custody.

Abu Ali was flown to Virginia from Saudi Arabia Feb. 21 to face the six-count indictment against him. If convicted on all counts Abu Ali could receive up to 80 years in prison.

Since his arrival, his parents, who live in Falls Church, Virginia, have seen him only once. They refuse to accept the government's "special administrative" conditions on their visits, which include the presence of an FBI agent, conversation in English only, and a ban on discussing visits with the media.

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