Accused Jihad Recruiter Asks to Represent Self

Ali Charaf Damache arrives at the courthouse in Waterford, Ireland, on March 15, 2010. Known as Black Flag, Damache has been linked to a plot to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File)

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A suspected jihad recruiter facing trial in the United States years after an Irish judge blocked his extradition complained in court Wednesday about his defense attorney.

Ali Charaf Damache, 52, is charged here in connection to the same decade-old recruitment conspiracy that resulted in the convictions of Colleen LaRose and Jamie Paulin Ramirez, better known by their tabloid nicknames Jihad Jane and Jamie.

Like his blond-haired and blue-eyed recruits, Damache was living in Ireland in 2010 when he was arrested and charged with sending threatening text messages.

Irish officials initially said they expected swift extradition to the United States, but Justice Aileen Donnelly with the High Court in Dublin sank the effort in May 2015.

In a 333-page ruling, Donnely found Damache would likely face solitary confinement and other cruel conditions in U.S. custody.

Just seven months after he walked out of the Dublin court a free man, however, Damache was arrested in Spain. Earlier this year, the Algerian became the first suspected terrorist to be extradited to the United States under President Donald Trump.

Damache pleaded not guilty over the summer. At a new hearing Wednesday, Damache told U.S. District Judge Petrese Tucker that “irreconcilable differences” have arisen with his appointed counsel, Joseph Mancano.

Referring to the attorney as his “solicitor,” Damache said Mancano initially promised him a short jail sentence but then never came to see him.

Damache also mentioned a list of attorneys that he says the Irish Embassy in Spain gave him and requested to choose new counsel from said list.

Judge Patrese told Damache that the Irish embassy has no authority in her court but that he was well within his rights to hire another attorney, regardless of any list.

Undercutting Damache’s point about his promise of a short sentence, however, Patrese noted that his trial had not yet started.

At this point Damache requested to represent himself.

In support of his claims of lack of assistance from his court-appointed counsel, Damache pointed to his favorable experiences in other country’s courts.

Mancano said that Damache’s request came as surprise to him.

“This is a man who’s never been to the United States, and is totally unfamiliar with our system and country,” Mancano said while leaving the courtroom. “It’s not a surprise that he may be overwhelmed.”

Damache is charged with two counts each of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, and attempted identity theft to facilitate international terrorism, both felony charges.

If convicted, Damache could face over 40 years in prison.

Colleen LaRose aka Jihad Jane is considered Damache’s most famous terrorist recruit. In 2011, the U.S. citizen pleaded guilty to conspiring to attempt to kill Swedish artist, Lars Vilks, who was accused of blasphemy after drawing a cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed with a dog’s body.

LaRose was given a 10-year prison sentence in 2014 but she told Reuters in a 2012 interview that she had gotten engaged to a fellow inmate.

Describing communications through the prison’s sewer pipes, LaRose said she understands her fiance to be a “wise, compassionate and righteous man” who has promised to convert to Islam for her.

LaRose expressed few regrets about working with Damache. “I did everything I did for the love of [the Muslim community],” she said, according to Reuters. “Whatever happens to me, it’s my destiny. Whatever time they give me, it’s already predestined for me. So I’m not worried.”

Another of Damache’s alleged co-conspirators, Mohammad Hassan Khalid, was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and given a five-year sentence.

Judge Patrese said Damache will have until mid-January to reconsider his request to represent himself. His trial is tentatively scheduled to start on Oct. 15, 2018.

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