Published April 8, 2003
DETROIT (AP) - A key government witness in the trial of four men accused of acting as a "sleeper" terrorist cell testified yesterday that the men wanted to use his experience in credit card and document fraud to support Islamic extremist efforts.
Described by defense lawyers as a master of misdirection, Youssef Hmimssa said some of the defendants sympathized with Islamic fighters in Algeria and figures such as Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the Egyptian cleric serving a life prison term for his involvement in a failed terrorist plot.
Hmimssa said the men wanted to raise money to send arms to the Middle East and bring men described as "brothers" from Algeria illegally to the United States. And he said defendant Farouk Ali-Haimoud tried to convince him that civilians could be targeted in promoting the spread of Islamic law.
"You have to operate undercover and you have to act like one of them ... like the infidels," Hmimssa testified that Ali-Haimoud told him.
Hmimssa, who met Ali-Haimoud at a Detroit area cafe in June 2001 along with defendants Karim Koubriti and Ahmed Hannan, said he rejected those views. Hmimssa lived for about a month with Koubriti and Hannan in a Dearborn apartment when he was on the run after being arrested in Chicago in a credit card scam.
Hmimssa, 32, said the men attempted to recruit him to make fake IDs and help fund their efforts. He said Koubriti, Hannan and Ali-Haimoud talked often about politics in the Middle East - as well as their hopes for supporting Islamic groups.
"It's about politics, about religion, about jihad," Hmimssa said of their conversations.
Defense lawyers say Hmimssa, who last week pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges stemming from indictments in Michigan, Illinois and Iowa, is a liar who is trying save himself. And they have noted that jihad, or holy war, also can refer to struggles for self-improvement.
Koubriti, Hannan, Ali-Haimoud and their alleged handler Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi are charged with conspiracy to provide material support or resources to terrorists. The trial is the first in the United States for an alleged terror cell detected following the Sept. 11 attacks.