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American charged in alleged plot to assassinate President Bush

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali is shown Tuesday in court in this sketch.
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An American charged in an alleged plot to kill President Bush.
Indictment:  U.S. v. Abu Ali  (FindLaw, PDF)external link
Saudi Arabia
George W. Bush
United States
Acts of terror

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- An American citizen who had been detained in Saudi Arabia was charged Tuesday in U.S. District Court with conspiracy and supporting terrorists in an alleged plot to assassinate President Bush.

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali appeared in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, and was charged with providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization -- 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."

The 23-year-old Abu Ali is not charged with a conspiracy to assassinate Bush, only for supporting terrorists and, as part of that, discussing Bush's possible assassination. He was denied bail Tuesday.

The indictment offered no evidence that the discussions ever advanced into a plan.

Tuesday's appearance was Abu Ali's first since he was returned to the United States from Saudi Arabia on Monday. He had been detained in Saudi Arabia for 20 months as a suspected terrorist.

As he entered the courtroom, clad in green prison garb, he beamed and smiled as about 40 of his supporters applauded him.

Edward MacMahon, an attorney for his family, said: "Abu-Ali intends to plead not guilty to all of these charges. He expects to have a fair trial at which he will be vindicated."

U.S. details charges

The government charges that he intended "to become a planner of terrorist operations like (September 11 terrorist) Mohamed Atta and (al Qaeda bomb expert) Khalid Sheikh Mohammed."

Between September 2002 and June 9, 2003, the government charges, Abu Ali and an unidentified co-conspirator "discussed plans for Abu Ali to assassinate President of the United States George W. Bush.

"Abu Ali and co-conspirator No. 2 discussed two options for assassinating President Bush: An operation in which Abu Ali would get close enough to the president to shoot him on the street; and, an operation in which Abu Ali would detonate a car bomb."

At this time, Abu Ali was in Saudi Arabia, where, the government alleges, he met with two co-conspirators and told them of his interest in joining al Qaeda.

When the charges were read in court, his supporters and family members laughed.

Separately, the government says that, between September 2002 and June 9, 2003, Abu Ali spoke to co-conspirator No. 3 about Abu Ali's assassination of Bush. "Abu Ali obtained a religious blessing from co-conspirator No. 3 to assassinate President Bush," the indictment says.

About the same time, "Abu Ali offered himself to persons in Saudi Arabia associated with al Qaeda as an individual committed to furthering the objectives of al Qaeda," the indictment says.

"While in Saudi Arabia, he received lodging from people associated with al Qaeda.

"Between the same time frame, co-conspirator No. 4 discussed with Abu Ali the manner and means by which Abu Ali could provide material support and resources to al Qaeda including conducting a terrorist operation and establishing an al Qaeda cell in the United States."

The government alleges in the indictment that Abu Ali received training in Saudi Arabia in the use of weapons, including hand grenades and explosives.

It provides no more detail about the alleged conspiracy to assassinate the president.

Accused man claims Saudi torture

The indictment listed items the government says were found in a June 16, 2003, search of Abu Ali's Falls Church, Virginia, residence.

They include:

  • A six-page document concerning various forms of surveillance by the government and private entities and how to avoid such surveillance.
  • An undated two-page document praising Taliban leader Mullah Omar and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001;
  • Audiotapes in Arabic promoting violent jihad, the killing of Jews and a battle by Muslims against Christians and Jews;
  • And a book written by al Qaeda's second-in-command, Zayman al-Zawahiri, in which al-Zawahiri characterizes democracy as a new religion that must be destroyed.
  • During the court proceeding, defense attorney Ashraf Nubani told Judge Liam O'Grady that his client wanted to tell the court that he had been tortured while he was being held in Saudi Arabia.

    "He was whipped and handcuffed days at a time," Nubani said.

    The Saudis denied Abu Ali's torture charges. (Full story)

    O'Grady declined Abu Ali's offer to show the court the markings on his back that he said could prove he was tortured, and he said that could take place Thursday, when Abu Ali is scheduled for a detention hearing to determine whether he gets bond.

    "I can assure you (he) will not suffer any other torture or humiliation," O'Grady said.

    Family proclaims innocence

    The case of Abu Ali generated controversy after his family filed a lawsuit last year against the U.S. government charging that American authorities had asked for his arrest in June 2003. U.S. officials have denied that assertion.

    The transfer of custody follows a recent demand by the U.S. government to the Saudis to either charge Abu Ali or release him to American custody.

    Omar Abu Ali, the father, said he learned only Monday from the FBI that his son would return from Saudi Arabia that night.

    "I feel that the truth will come soon," Omar Abu Ali told CNN before the charges were read. "He will be a free man soon."

    The father said his son is guilty of no crimes. Speaking after Tuesday's hearing, the father said, "All of what the government said is lies upon lies."

    Abu Ali was arrested after the May 2003 bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in which 23 people, including nine Americans, were killed. Sources familiar with the case have said Abu Ali is suspected of having connections to individuals involved in that bombing. A federal grand jury has been hearing evidence regarding the case.

    Federal prosecutors have previously alleged Abu Ali had a relationship with some members of what has been called the "Virginia jihad network," whose members were charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization.

    A federal judge last December ruled the family's lawsuit could proceed, despite objections from the U.S. government.

    CNN's Kevin Bohn contributed to this story.

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