PA Court Hears Not-Guilty Plea From Accused Jihad Recruiter

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Accused of plotting to kill a Swedish artist, the first suspected terrorist to be extradited to the United States under President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges.

Handcuffed and wearing a green inmate jumpsuit, Ali Charaf Damache appeared somber as he read his plea to U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Rueter. Algeria-born Damache was charged in a 2011 indictment with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and attempted identity theft to facilitate an act of international terrorism.

The Justice Department alleges that from 2008 to 2011, Damache conspired with Colleen R. LaRose, Jamie Paulin Ramirez and others to provide to terrorists material support and resources that included financial aid, recruitment and fake identification documents. LaRose and Ramirez, known in the media as Jihad Jane and Jamie, respectively, were each convicted for their roles in a failed plot to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had drawn a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

Damache, 52, targeted blonde, blue-eyed women like Ramirez and LaRose because they would “blend in with many people” in Europe, according to the indictment.

LaRose and Ramirez are serving a combined 18 years.

Prosecutors say Damache emailed LaRose in 2009, advising her of his desire to become a martyr in the name of Allah. “I tried twice but I wasn’t successful … [but] I will … try until Allah will m[a]ke it easy for me,” he said according to indictment, which also quotes Damache as making multiple references to a “willingness to die.”

In 2009, according to the indictment, an unnamed co-conspirator directed LaRose to kill Vilks “in a way that the whole Kufar [nonbeliever] world get frightened.” (Brackets in original)

Damache obtained Irish citizenship and was living there in 2010 when he was arrested and charged with sending threatening text messages. Though Irish officials said they expected swift extradition to the United States, Justice Aileen Donnelly with the High Court in Dublin sank the effort with a 333-page ruling that cited a likelihood that Damache would face solitary confinement and other cruel conditions in U.S. custody.

Donnelly wrote that the Irish consider solitary confinement to be “inhumane and abusive of the prisoner’s psychological welfare.”

“The lack of meaningful judicial review creates a risk of arbitrariness in the detention of the person in solitary confinement and therefore confirms that the prolonged detention in solitary confinement amounts to a breach of constitutional rights,” wrote Donnelly.

Though Damache walked out of that Irish courtroom a free man, he was arrested in Spain shortly thereafter and extradited to the United States. It remains unclear as to what brought Damache to Spain.

At the time of his indictment in 2011, then Assistant Attorney General for National Security Lisa Monaco said the conspiracy that involved “individuals around the globe who connected via the internet … [underscored] the evolving nature of violent extremism.”

Damache is represented by Joseph Mancano of Cedrone & Mancano, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams leading the prosecution. Neither attorney replied to requests for comments.  

Williams pointed out, for the record, that Damache had initially requested a French-to-English translator for the trial, but rescinded his own request as he is fluent in English.

U.S. District Judge Petrese Tucker will oversee the trial in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The date of that trial remains unscheduled.

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