DETROIT (AP) – Lawyers for two of four men accused of acting as part of a “sleeper” terrorist cell questioned a key government witness yesterday about his criminal past and why he waited six months after his arrest to start making allegations about terrorism.

Youssef Hmimssa testified last week that he was afraid of the men who he met in the Detroit area while he was on the run from federal credit card fraud charges in the spring of 2001. But he conceded that once arrested Sept. 28, 2001, he felt safe.

“They could not do any harm to me in prison,” Hmimssa said during his fourth day on the stand.

Still, Hmimssa denied any knowledge related to terrorism in interviews with federal agents until March 2002. He also kept silent despite signing an agreement in November 2001 to make full and complete statements that wouldn’t be used against him or toughen any sentence.

Hmimssa has testified that he helped the defendants who he thought to be connected to terrorism. He has not faced charges related to terrorism, but said he was still worried about the possibility after being transported back to Michigan from Iowa where he was arrested. In testimony last week, Hmimssa accused the men on trial of being Islamic extremists who talked of supporting terrorism. Defense lawyers say Hmimssa is a liar who is trying to save himself from harsher punishment by telling a tale for the government.

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