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Former U.S. Navy sailor arrested on terror charges

Story Highlights

• Accused of mishandling classified information
• Also accused of supporting terrorism with intent to kill U.S. citizens
• Classified information ended up with suspected terror financiers
• Terror financiers awaiting extradition from Britain to United States
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NEW HAVEN, Connecticut (CNN) -- A former member of the U.S. Navy was arrested Wednesday in Phoenix, Arizona, on charges of espionage and providing material support to terrorists, the Department of Justice said.

Hassan Abujihaad, formerly known as Paul R. Hall, 31, was arrested on a federal criminal complaint. He is alleged to have provided classified information to a London-based group called Azzam Publications about a U.S. Navy battle group as it traveled from California to the Persian Gulf region in 2001.

If convicted, Abujihaad faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

The charges were brought in Connecticut because, for a time, the Azzam Publications Web sites were hosted on servers in Connecticut.

Two members of that group, Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, also face terrorism charges in the United States. Federal prosecutors have said that from 1998 to 2002, the two operated Web sites encouraging the donation of money or equipment to terrorists.

Ahmad and Ahsan remain in Britain while they appeal extradition orders.

As British police were searching Ahmad's residence in London they found a floppy disk with a password-protected document that divulged the classified Navy information, the Justice Department said Wednesday in a statement.

"The document went on to discuss the battle group's perceived vulnerability to terrorist attack," the statement said. "Additional investigation and computer forensic analysis later determined that Syed Talha Ahsan allegedly possessed, accessed, modified and re-saved the electronic battle group file before it was found in Ahmad's possession."

The complaint against Abujihaad alleges he provided the two with the information.

Search warrants executed on various e-mail accounts associated with the Azzam Web sites show Abujihaad and members of Azzam Publications had several e-mail exchanges from late 2000 to late 2001. At the time, Abujihaad was an enlistee in the Navy on active duty in the Middle East, stationed aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Benfold, one of the ships in the battle group whose movements were divulged.

The e-mail exchanges "included discussions regarding videos Abujihaad ordered from Azzam Publications that promoted violent jihad; a small donation of money Abujihaad had made to Azzam Publications; and whether it was 'safe' to send materials to Abujihaad at his military address onboard the USS Benfold," the Justice Department said.

In one e-mail exchange, authorities allege, Abujihaad "described a recent force protection briefing given aboard his ship, voiced enmity toward America, praised Osama bin Laden and the mujahedeen [and] praised the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole."

The suicide bomber attack left a 40-foot by 40-foot hole in the destroyer's hull and killed 17 sailors and injured 39.

Abujihaad was discharged from active duty in the Navy in January 2002, before the alleged conduct was known, authorities said.

Prosecutors allege that in 2004, when Abujihaad learned Ahmad had been arrested and allegedly possessed the Navy information, he destroyed Azzam Publications videos and deleted computer files reflecting material from Azzam sites. In recorded negotiations for the purchase of two assault rifles in December 2006, Abujihaad admitted corresponding with Azzam Publications, sending the e-mail regarding the USS Cole and destroying the videos two years earlier, say authorities.

Abujihaad appeared Wednesday before a U.S. magistrate judge, and "agreed to a temporary order of detention and to be removed to the District of Connecticut for further prosecution," the Justice Department statement said.


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Former U.S. Navy sailor Hassan Abujihaad praised the October 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole in e-mails to a terror-financing Web site.

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