Suspect Absent as Terror Trial Begins

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) — A federal jury heard opening arguments Monday morning in the case of admitted al-Qaida operative whose prosecution highlights the success of traditional screening channels.

Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun has consistently boasted of his participation in al-Qaida at every turn, blowing his cover as the operative code-named “Spin Ghul” to Italian authorities well before his extradition to the United States.

Indeed, Harun’s attorney Susan Kellman told a jury today: “Our client pledged his allegiance to al-Qaida, a designated foreign terrorist organization.”

Based on that concession alone, the jury could find Harun guilty of material support for terrorism. Harun denies responsibility, however, for the four other charges against him, connected to an ambush that killed two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in 2003.

Family members for fallen soldiers – 24-year-old Raymond Losano and 19-year-old Jerod Dennis – are expected to appear in court.

Harun also stands accused of conspiring to attack U.S. diplomatic targets in Nigeria a year later.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Jacobs told a jury that this second plot failed after a messenger whom Harun recruited was arrested in Pakistan. Harun fled to Libya, where he was apprehended in 2005 but escaped captivity six years later as Moammar Gadhafi’s government crumbled.

Harun was onboard a refugee ship bound for Italy when he quickly volunteered to a military officer on board that he was an al-Qaida member. “He said he was not a refugee, but a fighter,” Italian anti-terrorism commander Morgese Francesco told the jury.

Harun was candid about his background during a three-day hearing in Italy ahead of his 2013 extradition. “I want to give you a history of how I entered into terrorism,” he said, according to prosecutors.

Harun is pleading not guilty to the charges against him here but refuses to walk back from his bluster.

“I am a warrior, and the war is not over,” he told the court, according to a government memorandum.

For years, Harun has refused to meet with his lawyers, and he did not appear in court today as part of his ongoing boycott of the proceedings against him.

Holding up Harun’s picture instead, prosecutor Jacobs introduced the jury to the absent man.

“The defendant is an al-Qaida terrorist whose mission was to kill Americans,” Jacobs declared, in an opening address steeped in references to terrorism, al-Qaida and the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Defense attorney Kellman told the jury that the prosecutor specifically meant to inflame fear and prejudice by invoking these words.

“You will not allow prejudice to be a substitute for proof,” she told the jury.

Previewing the prosecution’s evidence, Jacobs noted that the jury would hear Harun’s taped confessions from his hearing in Italy, as well as witness testimony from U.S. and Italian troops.

Forensic evidence also links Harun’s fingerprints to a Quran recovered from the Afghanistan battlefield, and a notebook retrieved from the scene also has his name and phone numbers, prosecutors say.

Kellman did not sketch out any details of the defense’s case, except to caution jurors not to let her client’s admitted al-Qaida affiliation stop them from scrutinizing the evidence.

“Mr. Harun may not share your worldview, but is that enough to convict him?” she asked.

Francesco, the Italian commander, kicked off the witness testimony with an in-depth look into Harun’s journey aboard the Excelsior, from the Italian isle of Lampedusa over to the mainland on June 24, 2011.

The commander said that approximately 1,180 people made the journey that day, escaping the unrest that followed Gadhafi’s downfall and the Arab Spring.

Harun had been asking for a glass of water, Francesco testified, when the commander noticed a scar from a bullet wound on his armed.

“I asked him, in my elemental English, ‘What happened?’” he said through an Italian translator.

“American soldier,” Harun said, according to Francesco’s testimony, while lifting his shirt to reveal more scars on his back.

Francesco said he called for an Arabic translator at that point to make sure that he did not misunderstand Harun’s statement.

“Harun declared that he was an al-Qaida fighter,” the commander testified. “He wanted to speak to an ambassador from Niger.”

Born in Niger, Harun grew up in Saudi Arabia, a country that produced the majority of the 9/11 attackers.

Neither country is included on the travel-ban list that Trump unveiled Monday, which remains the subject of a lawsuit pending before another federal judge in Brooklyn.

There never has been a fatal terrorist attack on U.S. soil originating from Libya or any of the other five Muslim-majority nations targeted by Trump’s travel ban.