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American Muslim is convicted

24-year-old member of al-Qaida conspired to assassinate Bush

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali
Ahmed Omar Abu Ali

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — An American Muslim student charged with joining al-Qaida and plotting to assassinate President Bush was convicted Tuesday on all counts.

The federal jury rejected Ahmed Omar Abu Ali's claim that Saudi security officers whipped and tortured him into a false confession.

Abu Ali, a 24-year-old U.S. citizen born to a Jordanian father and raised in Virginia, could get life in prison on charges including conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to hijack aircraft and providing support to al-Qaida. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 17.

The jury deliberated for 2 1/2 days. Abu Ali swallowed hard before the verdict was read but otherwise showed little emotion. He did not testify at his trial.

Abu Ali's lawyer, Khurrum Wahid, said he will appeal. He said his client "is disappointed that the jury didn't see the truth and he wants us to continue the fight."

Wahid said he believes it's hard for anyone to get a fair trial when the accusations involve al-Qaida.

"I think the country went through a very traumatic event on Sept. 11 and it's very difficult for people to separate that from the facts in a particular case," he said.

The U.S. attorney, Paul McNulty, said in a statement that "the evidence presented in this case firmly established Abu Ali as a dangerous terrorist who posed a grave threat to our national security. . . . It serves as a clear warning to all that terrorists can and will be brought to the bar of justice."

Jurors in the three-week trial saw a videotaped confession Abu Ali gave to the Saudis in which he said he joined al-Qaida because he hated the United States for its support of Israel.

Notes taken by Saudi interrogators said that he discussed numerous potential terror plots, but the one that most appealed to him was killing "the leader of the infidels" — President Bush.

Defense lawyers argued that Abu Ali gave a false confession after being whipped and beaten by the Saudi security force known as the Mubahith.

Abu Ali, of Falls Church, testified in detail during a pretrial hearing about his detention and alleged torture, but at trial he relied on testimony of a doctor and a psychiatrist who said his account was consistent with being tortured.

Prosecutors denied Abu Ali, who was enrolled at the Islamic University of Medina at the time of his arrest, was ever mistreated. They presented videotaped testimony from his Saudi interrogators who said he confessed immediately after being confronted with evidence obtained from other al-Qaida members.

A dermatologist testified for the government that faint lines on Abu Ali's back were surface scratches that could have been caused by superficial injuries.

Defense lawyers had sought to have the confession tossed out and the case dismissed at a pretrial hearing last month. But Judge Gerald Bruce Lee allowed the prosecution to go forward, saying he had doubts about the credibility of Abu Ali's account.

The confession's admissibility is likely to be a significant issue in the appeal.