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Last Guilty Plea Closes| ‘Terror Camp’ Docket

MANHATTAN (CN) - After more than 15 years, the docket for the so-called "terror camp" nears a close with a guilty plea of the last co-conspirator: Haroun Aswat.

Aswat, a 40-year-old Brit, spoke quietly in court on Monday as he admitted to two counts of material support for terrorism and conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism.

Speaking of a conspiracy he joined in 1999, Aswat told the judge: "I wanted to participate in jihad on behalf of a terrorist organization."

While he is charged with aiding al-Qaida, Aswat told the court that he did not know at the time that was the name of the group he was aiding. His conspiracy occurred one year after al-Qaida's attacks on two U.S. embassies in East Africa, but two years before the group committed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian McGinley explained to that judge that Aswat's knowledge of what terrorist group he specifically was aiding was not necessary for acceptance of the plea.

Aswat's charges stem from a plan to set up a training camp for Muslim fighters that briefly cropped up among the mountains of Bly, Ore., for a few months of 1999. Nothing ever came of the camp before in-fighting between the extremists caused it to disband, but prosecutors saw a threat in it that inspired wide-ranging prosecution.

Its founder James Ujaama has testified that he chose the site because the terrain was "just like Afghanistan" and it was located in "a pro-militia and firearm state."

Ujaama told the court that he tried to draw other militants to the camp by contacting London Imam Abu Hamza, who sent over two deputies.

One of those men was Oussama Kassir, a Swede, and the other was Aswat, who is from Yorkshire, England.

Federal prosecutors spent more than a decade catching up with all of the men. Ujaama became a government informant. An Oregon jury convicted Kassir, who is now in prison for life, more than five years ago. Hamza is also serving a life sentence after a New York jury found him guilty for various terrorism crimes last year.

Aswat faces a maximum 20-year sentence under the terms of the agreement he accepted Monday.

Arrested in Zambia in 2005, Aswat was extradited to the United Kingdom. He tried to avoid being sent to the United States by trying to convince the European Court of Human Rights that his longstanding schizophrenia diagnosis should have barred his prosecution here.

Aswat said that he was first diagnosed when he was 20, and had lived with his condition for two decades by taking medication.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara commented on his extradition fight in a statement.

"Haroon Aswat fought his extradition to the United States for almost 10 years," Bharara noted. "He then pled guilty to material support charges within just six months of arriving here, showing again our legal system's capacity for swift justice."

Noting that he showed "no signs or symptoms" of that condition on Monday, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest found him competent to make his plea.

It is unclear whether Aswat will be eligible to reduce his sentence through consideration of the time that he spent in pre-trial custody in the United Kingdom and the United States, as happened in the case of Egyptian terrorist Adel Abdel Bary.

Aswat's sentencing is scheduled for July 31.

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