Not the sharpest “Sword of Allah”
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – A former Navy sailor was convicted Wednesday of leaking details about ship movements to suspected terrorism supporters, an act that could have endangered his own crewmates.
Jurors convicted Hassan Abu-Jihaad, 32, of Phoenix of providing material support to terrorists and disclosing classified national defense information on the second day of deliberations.
The American-born Muslim convert formerly known as Paul R. Hall faces up to 25 years in federal prison when he is sentenced May 23. His attorneys said they were disappointed, and that an appeal was likely.
Jurors declined comment, as did Abu-Jihaad’s family members.
The leak came amid increased wariness on the part of U.S. Navy commanders whose ships headed to the Persian Gulf in the months after a terrorist ambush in 2000 killed 17 sailors aboard the USS Cole.
“Fortunately there wasn’t an attack based on the information Abu-Jihaad passed,” said FBI Agent in Charge Kimberly K. Mertz.
Abu-Jihaad, who was a signalman aboard the USS Benfold, was accused of passing along details that included the makeup of his Navy battle group, its planned movements and a drawing of the group’s formation when it was to pass through the dangerous Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf on April 29, 2001.
Abu-Jihaad’s attorney said a four-year investigation that spanned two continents failed to turn up proof that Abu-Jihaad leaked details of ship movements and their vulnerability to attack.
Federal prosecutors said he sympathized with the enemy and admitted disclosing military intelligence. But they acknowledged they did not have direct proof that he leaked the ship details.
Authorities said the details of ship movements had to have been leaked by an insider, saying they were not publicly known and contained military jargon. The leaked documents closely matched what Abu-Jihaad would have had access to as a signalman, authorities said.
Prosecutors also said Abu-Jihaad was the only member of the military who was communicating with the alleged terrorists. They cited one e-mail in which he called the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 a “martyrdom operation” and praised “the men who have brong honor … in the lands of jihad Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, etc.”
Prosecutors cited secretly recorded phone calls played during the trial in which Abu-Jihaad spoke of “fresh meals” and “cold meals” that an FBI informant said were references to intelligence related to military bases. A “fresh meal” referred to useful information, while “cold meal” was code for outdated intelligence, prosecutors said.
Dan LaBelle, Abu-Jihaad’s attorney, tried to show that many details of ship movements he was accused of leaking to suspected terrorism supporters were publicly available through news reports, press releases and Web sites. He also noted that Navy officials testified that the details were full of errors. [...]
Abu-Jihaad, who was honorably discharged in 2002, was prosecuted in New Haven because the investigation first focused on a Connecticut-based Internet service provider.