Terrorism Conviction Of 2 Men Tossed
- Prosecutor Criminally Investigated For Frame-up

by Hans Sherrer

Justice:Denied magazine, Issue 27, Winter 2005, page 7

In early June 2003 the news media around the world reported on the conviction of two men in Detroit for providing “material support” for terrorism. 1 It was the first federal terrorism trial after September 11, 2001. The men, Karim Koubriti and Abdel-Ilah Elmaroudi, both Moroccan immigrants, were prosecuted along with two other men also charged with, but acquitted of the terrorism charges. Those men were Ahmed Hannan and Farouk Ali-Haimoud. The four men were also prosecuted for document fraud (possessing false identification papers), and all the men except for Ali-Haimoud were convicted of those charges. The jury had deliberated for six days before announcing its verdicts.

The prosecution relied primarily on a single witness and several sketches in a day planner to obtain the men’s convictions. The witness was Youssef Hmimssa, a Moroccan forger illegally in the U.S. who had been convicted of stolen credit card charges. He testified concerning the defendant’s attempt to recruit him into their scheme to overthrow the Algerian government. Hmimssa claimed they wanted to take advantage of his skills as a forger and credit card thief to send weapons and money to Algeria. 2 He also said Koubriti and Hannan talked about poisoning airline passengers at the Detroit Metro Airport, and that “Al-Haimoud talked about joining Osama bin Laden and killing Jews, Christians and wrong-thinking Muslims.” 3

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was pleased with the convictions that he described as breaking a terrorist sleeper cell intended to secure weapons and attack targets in this and other countries. He said, “I congratulate the prosecutors and agents who worked tirelessly on this case.” 4 Ashcroft also noted that the case demonstrated the Justice Department’s commitment to “detect, disrupt and dismantle the activities of terrorist cells in the United States and abroad.” 5

However the three convicted defendants rained on the government’s congratulatory back-slapping by filing a pre-sentence motion for a new trial that claimed the prosecution, headed by Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) Richard Convertino, had concealed exculpatory evidence and witnesses, and offered tainted testimony, all of which undermined the veracity of the convictions. In response to the defendant’s contentions, U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen ordered the Justice Department to respond after fully reviewing the information available to it about the government’s investigation and prosecution of the defendants. After receiving that order, Detroit’s U.S. Attorney removed from the case, AUSA Convertino and his superior, AUSA Keith Corbett (head of Detroit’s Organized Crime Strike Force). 6

While the government prepared its response to their motion, the three defendants remained in custody – trapped in limbo between conviction and sentencing.

On August 31, 2004 the government filed a 60 page response to the defendant’s motion for a new trial. It requested that Judge Rosen vacate all the convictions, and then order a retrial of the three defendants on the document fraud charges. At the same time the government said it would drop the terrorism charges against the men. The government justified dropping the terrorism charges by conceding that prosecutor Convertino had withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from the defense. That evidence included:

·    In a December 2001 letter prosecutor Convertino concealed from the defendants, Youssef wrote to another man he had been in jail with, that everything he told law enforcement authorities about the defendant’s had been made up: Youssef wrote, “how he lied to the FBI, how he fool’d the Secret Service agent on his case.” 7 Youssef’s trial testimony was based on what he said Ali-Haimoud, Hannan and Koubriti talked about while he was in jail with them, after their arrests on September 17, 2001.
·    Contrary to prosecution favorable testimony during the trial, some officials, including a CIA expert, disagreed that a day planner found during a search of the defendant’s apartment contained case sketches of potential terrorist targets. 8 One of the sketches of an alleged target, e.g., actually resembled a free-hand sketch of the Middle East.
·    Prosecutor Convertino told the judge and the defendants that the government didn’t have a photo of an overseas facility that it claimed was depicted as a target in the day planner, when it did have a photo of it, and it didn’t resemble the day planner sketch introduced into evidence at the trial.
·    Prosecutor Convertino concealed a witness statement from the defendants in which a former roommate of two of the defendants described them as lazy drunks who smoked and never talked about religion. That description of the men’s lifestyle directly contradicted Convertino’s courtroom characterization of the men as devote Muslims engaged in a religious “jihad” against the West. If they were devote Muslims involved in anti-Western activities, they would not have behaved as decadent Westerners. 9

On September 2, 2004 Judge Rosen vacated the three defendant’s convictions and ordered that they be retried only on the document fraud charges. In his order, Judge Rosen wrote, “Certainly, the legal front of the war on terrorism is a battle that must be fought and won in the courts, but it must be won in accordance with the rule of law.” 10 He wrote, that the prosecution’s desire to convict the defendant’s “overcame not only its professional judgement, but its broader obligations to the justice system and the rule of law. It is an inescapable conclusion that the defendant’s due process, confrontation and fair trial rights were violated. There is at least a reasonable probability that the jury’s verdict would have been different had constitutional standards been met.” 11  The Justice Department then motioned the trial court to dismiss the document fraud charges. With those charges dismissed, the four men were exonerated of all the charges filed against them after federal law enforcement officers raided their Detroit apartment on September 17, 2001.

The lead prosecutor in the men’s trial, AUSA Convertino, is under federal criminal investigation for his handling of the case. Based on the Justice Department’s admissions in its response of August 31, 2004, Convertino’s actions may have amounted to nothing less than orchestrating the deliberate frame-up of four men he had every reason to believe were innocent of the terrorism charges - because there was no evidence they were guilty - except for what he is under investigation for possibly contriving.

An interesting twist in the case is that AUSA Convertino filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department in February 2004. Among his claims is that agency officials in Washington D.C. frustrated his efforts to convict the four defendants by “gross mismanagement” and a “lack of support and cooperation,” and they are using him as the scapegoat for the collapse of any basis for the terrorism charges brought against the four men. 12 At this point it is unknown if there is any merit to Convertino’s claim of negative interference by his superiors in Washington D.C. However his assertion is undermined by the vehemence with which the conviction of the four defendants was pursued by the Justice Department, which at least tacitly approved of Convertino’s untoward tactics, and by Judge Rosen’s public admonishment of Ashcroft’s public comments about the case that exhibited “a distressing lack of care” for the due process right of the defendants to a fair trial. 13

The apparent support by Convertino’s superiors for his “win at all costs” strategy supports that he is being made the scapegoat for the botched  terrorism prosecutions. If true, he isn’t in that role because of his constitutionally impermissible tactics, but because he is the lowest man on the prosecution totem pole who can legitimately be pinned with approving those tactics. After all, although John Ashcroft was quick to bask in the glory of having Koubriti and Elmaroudi’s terrorism convictions occur during his tenure as attorney general, it is inconceivable that would ever publicly admit that the order to fabricate and conceal evidence in their case came from him or one of his leautenants – even if it did.

Just as with the “terrorism” cases of Brandon Mayfield in Oregon, Sami Omar Al-Hussayen in Idaho, and James Yee in Florida, 14 there was no substance to the government’s accusation that Karim Koubriti, Abdel-Ilah Elmaroudi, Ahmed Hannan and Abdel-Ilah Elmaroudi were involved in international terrorism. The only terror that existed was the federal government’s terrorization of innocent people.

Federal prosecutors, however, are continuing to try and draw blood to justify the millions of dollars that were spent investigating, prosecuting and jailing the four men for the insubstantial terrorism charges. In December 2004, Karim Koubriti and Ahmed Hannan were indicted for allegedly filing a fraudulent $2,500 insurance claim after a July 2001 automobile accident. As of February 2005, the trial of the men is scheduled for June 7, 2005. 15


1 See, 18 U.S.C. 2339(a). In Issue 25, Justice:Denied reported on the 17 month imprisonment of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen related to his unfounded prosecution for allegedly providing "material support" in the promotion of terrorism by allegedly offering his "expert advice or assistance" as a website designer for a terrorist organization that actually disseminated Islamic related news and information. Al-Hussayen’s trial ended in June 2004 with an acquittal of the terrorism related charges, and a hung jury on charges related to his volunteer work on the website when his student visa prohibited working in the U.S. See, Innocent Muslim Student Prosecuted as a Terrorist and Jailed for 17 Months, Hans Sherrer, Justice:Denied, Issue 25, Summer 2004, p. 10.
2 Two Guilty in Detroit Terror Trial, Newsmax Wires, June 4, 2003.
3 Id.
4 Id.
5 Id.
6 U.S. to Seek Dismissal of Terrorism Convictions, Allan Lengel and Susan Schmidt, The Washington Post, September 1, 2004, p. A02.
7 Id.
8 Federal judge dismisses terrorism charges against two men in Detroit, Associated Press, Detroit Free Press, September 2, 2004.
9 U.S. to Seek Dismissal of Terrorism Convictions, supra.
10 Federal judge dismisses terrorism charges against two men in Detroit, supra.
11 Id.
12 U.S. to Seek Dismissal of Terrorism Convictions, supra.
13 Id.
14 See, The Innocent Are Menaced by the “War on Terror”, Hans Sherrer, Justice:Denied, Issue 25, Summer 2004, p. 10.
15 Fraud trial set for two former terror suspects, David Shepardson, The Detroit News, January 27, 2005.