DUBLIN (Reuters) - An Algerian at the center of the so-called Jihad Jane conspiracy unexpectedly pleaded guilty during an Irish proceeding on Wednesday that may hasten his extradition to the United States on terrorism charges, a court official said.
Ali Damache, who has lived in Ireland for a decade, pleaded guilty in court to a single count of sending a menacing message by telephone to an American Muslim activist, according to a court official in Waterford, Ireland.
Damache, who has been held in Ireland for nearly three years, was sentenced to the equivalent of time served and immediately released. However, he was arrested again minutes later on behalf of the FBI, a court official said. Damache faces an extradition hearing Thursday in Dublin.
Damache, 47, was standing trial in Waterford this week for the phone threat, when the unexpected plea came. A more serious Irish charge of threatening to kill the American activist was withdrawn.
The trial was unrelated to the Jihad Jane case, and U.S. authorities have been waiting for the Irish proceedings to finish so that they can extradite Damache to the United States.
The U.S. terrorism charges are far more serious. He is accused of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists - specifically, by luring two American-born women Muslim converts to Ireland in 2009.
Colleen LaRose, the Pennsylvania woman who called herself Jihad Jane, has pleaded guilty in U.S. court to conspiring with Damache to try to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had angered Muslims by depicting the Prophet Mohammed on the head of a dog.
The other American woman, Jamie Paulin Ramirez, married Damache the day she arrived in Ireland in September 2009, and has pleaded guilty in U.S. court to flying to Europe to help terrorists. A third defendant, Khalid Mohammed, a Maryland high school honor student arrested at age 18, also pleaded guilty.
LaRose, Ramirez and Mohammed are scheduled to be sentenced in May in federal court in Philadelphia.
U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Patty Hartman declined to comment on the Irish trial or extradition.
The week-long trial in Ireland was related to a different terrorism case - the 2009 Christmas Day attempt by a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to set off explosives hidden in his underwear as a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam neared Detroit. Abdulmutallab has pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence.
Damache pleaded guilty to threatening Detroit Muslim-American activist Majed Moughni who organized a rally outside a courthouse where Abdulmutallab was appearing to condemn the bombing attempt.
The rally received wide media coverage, and the following morning Moughni said he received a threatening phone call at home from an unidentified man who was angry because Moughni had spoken out against the underwear bomber.
“I would put a bullet in your head because you are a hypocrite,” the caller said, according to a tape of the call Moughni recorded.
From Detroit, Moughni said he was pleased with the outcome. “Hopefully it sends a message,” he said, “that as a Muslim, I am on the same side as America, and hopefully it will encourage others to speak up as I did to protect our freedoms.”
RTE, the Irish television network, reported that Damache’s lawyer told the court that his client wanted to give a heartfelt apology to Moughni. He was not in a good frame of mind when he made the call, had been misguided and naive, RTE reported.
The judge sentenced Damache to four years in jail, with the final year suspended. RTE reported that the judge credited Damache for time served and ordered his instant release.
He was arrested again by Irish police as soon as he stepped into the courthouse lobby, the official said.
(This story has been reflied to insert dropped word ‘has’ in third paragraph)
Writing by John Shiffman; editing by Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman