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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Pro-Militia’ Vibe in Oregon Drew Taliban Supporter

MANHATTAN (CN) - A U.S. citizen convicted of supporting the Taliban sent a fax to a radical Muslim preacher in London, pitching Bly, Ore., as the site for a training camp because the land was "just like Afghanistan" and located in "a pro-militia and firearm state," evidence in New York's latest terrorism trial showed Wednesday.

In late 1999, two congregants from London's Finsbury Park mosque met up with Washington- and Oregon-based Muslims on a ranch that offered firearms and martial-arts training to those seeking to join the Taliban in Afghanistan's civil war. Dog Cry Ranch, as it was known, fizzled out before the end of the year, but three of the camp organizers were eventually charged for the aborted plot.

One of those men, James Ujaama, showed a New York jury on Wednesday the Kinkos fax he sent to an Egyptian preacher then-known as Abu Hamza al-Masri. On trial under his birth name, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa stands accused of various terrorism-related crimes.

"The land that we spoke of is about 160 acres and looks just like Afghanistan with mountains and small trees, dry, hot and cold extreme temperatures," Ujaama wrote to Abu Hamza in an Oct. 25, 1999, fax. "It is 100 percent legal and so are all of our activities. The land is in a state that is a pro-militia and firearms state."

Ujaama noted under a prosecutor's direct examination that it would have been illegal in London even to own any of the guns that the men fired there.

"Currently, we are all stockpiling weapons within our legal right," the fax said.

Ujaama said that was a lie calculated to win Abu Hamza's attention and support.

"Then, [Abu Hamza's endorsement] would give legitimacy to what we were doing," Ujaama explained. "He had a large following."

Another page of the fax included a flyer with the activities on the ranch, which included survival training, Arabian horses, archery, combat and martial arts, rifle and handgun handling, and "hiking and Sunnah fun," referring to the type of fun acceptable under Islamic law.

Another witness who testified about the Bly, Ore., camp reportedly likened it to the Cub Scouts.

Ujaama had been living in Seattle, Wash., when the city's mayor declared June 10, 1994, a statewide holiday in Ujaama's name to recognize his community service as an entrepreneur and author.

Weeks later, Ujaama moved to nearby Tacoma, Wash., and sent a new fax to Abu Hamza.

"We are expecting the two brothers that we discussed to come in November," this fax said.

Those two men, Oussama Kassir and Haroon Aswat, ultimately flew in to New York to take a cross-country bus from Manhattan. Prosecutors say that this act ultimately gave the Manhattan Federal Court jurisdiction to hear the case against Abu Hamza.

But Ujaama said that the plan to establish a training camp in the Pacific Northwest crumbled as Kassir became disappointed that Dog Cry Ranch had fewer men and weapons than promised.

"[Kassir] said that he was very disappointed in Sheikh Abu Hamza," Ujaama said, describing the defendant throughout his testimony with the honorific for a learned Islamic scholar.

Ujaama said Kassir was brandishing a copy of Abu Hamza's fax when he confronted him in a "very threatening and aggressive [manner] and he got in my face."

He added that he left because he felt "worried about my safety" and also "betrayed by Abu Hamza."

An Oregon federal jury convicted Kassir of terrorism-related offenses, and the European Court of Human Rights blocked plans to extradite the schizophrenic Aswat.

Abu Hamza, who failed to oppose his extradition, had previously been convicted in London court for hate-speech crimes related to his fiery sermons praising terrorist attacks and Osama bin Laden and opposing "kafir" (infidels). He was not charged there, however, for participating in any terrorism plot.

Prosecutors here have shown jurors Abu Hamza's incendiary speeches throughout the trial, but they insist that he is on trial for his actions rather than his words. He is also charged with giving a satellite phone to hostage-takers who abducted 16 British and U.S. tourists in Yemen, four of whom were killed, and recruiting former Guantanamo detainee Feroz Abbasi to fight in Afghanistan.

Ujaama corroborated both of these allegations.

"I recall Abu Hamza talking about a satellite phone that he wished he hadn't sent there, and something that happened to his son there," he said, referring to Yemen.

In 1999, the BBC reported that Abu Hamza's eldest son was convicted of a bomb plot in Yemen, where the court rejected claims that the defendants were tortured.

Abbasi also alleged that he was tortured at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba and released after three years at the prison camp without being charged. The U.S. soldier who captured him is supposed to testify at trial.

Ujaama's testimony, meanwhile, continues on Thursday.

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