DETROIT (Reuters) - The phone call from Ireland to Michigan lasted only five minutes. But what was said - and the criminal charge that followed - continue to complicate U.S. plans to prosecute an Algerian man at the vortex of the so-called Jihad Jane terrorism conspiracy.
Ali Charaf Damache cannot be extradited to the United States to face terrorism charges until Irish authorities finish prosecuting him for the relatively minor crime of making a threatening phone call to an activist in Detroit.
The Irish proceedings have languished for almost three years as Damache filed repeated motions from prison. This week, Damache’s trial began in southern Ireland, and through a video link in Detroit, an Irish jury heard testimony from the Michigan man Damache is accused of threatening.
If convicted, further appeals are likely, given that pretrial motions reached the Irish Supreme Court.
The delay is yet another strange twist in the Jihad Jane conspiracy, a case U.S. authorities have portrayed as representing the new face of terrorism because it involved an American-born, blond-haired white woman.
In the U.S. case, the woman who called herself Jihad Jane, Colleen LaRose of Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, has pleaded guilty to conspiring with Damache to kill Lars Vilks, the Swedish artist. Vilks was accused of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammad by depicting the prophet’s face on the head of a dog.
Another U.S.-born Muslim convert, Jamie Paulin Ramirez, also pleaded guilty to joining Damache in Ireland to engage in jihad. Ramirez, dubbed Jihad Jamie, married Damache when she arrived in Ireland and was living with him when he is accused of making the threatening call.
A third defendant in the Jihad Jane case, Mohammed H. Khalid, pleaded guilty to providing support to terrorists, including Damache. By pleading guilty, Khalid, a Maryland high school honor student, became at age 18 the youngest person charged with terrorism inside the United States.
LaRose, Ramirez and Khalid are scheduled to be sentenced in early May in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. The years-long delay in their cases can be attributed in part to the Damache legal quagmire in Ireland.
The jury in Ireland has heard evidence 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.
In January 2010, during one of Abdulmutallab’s first court appearances in Detroit, local Muslim-American activist Majed Moughni organized a rally outside the courthouse to condemn the bombing attempt. With his wife, Vivian Moughni, he held a banner that read, “Not in the name of Islam.”
Testifying by video from Detroit on Wednesday, Moughni told jurors that his rally garnered widespread media attention, including an appearance on CNN. The following morning he received a threatening phone call at home from an unidentified man who was angry because Moughni had spoken out against the underwear bomber.
The call lasted about five minutes and Moughni recorded the final three minutes, which were played in court Wednesday. “I would put a bullet in your head because you are a hypocrite,” the caller said.
“I got the shivers,” Moughni testified in answer to a question by an Irish prosecutor, Michael Delaney. “I was terrified.”
Moughni reported the call to the local Dearborn, Michigan, police and to a journalist at the Detroit Free Press, he testified. Fearing that the threat was real, Moughni said he slept with his four children and wife locked in a bedroom for a week afterward, with a kitchen knife by his side.
Damache was arrested by Irish police on March 9, 2010, the day the U.S. charges in the Jihad Jane case were unsealed. Moughni testified that he did not learn of the connection between the two cases until about a month later.
Authorities have not explained how they linked Damache to the call, although court records reveal that the FBI asked Irish police to put Damache under surveillance at about the same time LaRose and Ramirez moved in with him: in September 2009.
During cross-examination, Micheal O‘Higgins, a defense attorney for Damache, called Moughni a publicity hound. O‘Higgins accused Moughni of using the threat to further his political career, which included an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2010. If he was so concerned about the threat to his family, O‘Higgins asked, why did he alert the media the same day he went to the police?
“Publicity is very important,” Moughni said, adding that using the media is an effective way to spread his message for what he called “the cause” - telling the public that most American Muslims do not support Islamic terrorists.
O‘Higgins called Moughni’s rationale “bogus” and suggested he was motivated by politics, not justice.
Neither LaRose nor Ramirez is expected to testify at this week’s trial in Ireland, people familiar with the matter said.
A Reuters series in December documented each women’s disillusionment with Damache, an unemployed salesman, after he lured them to Ireland with promises to wage a holy war.
“When I got there, nothing was the way he said it was,” LaRose told Reuters in an interview. “He was unemployed, living in an apartment that he was fixing to get kicked out of.”
Damache married Ramirez the day she arrived from Colorado with her young son. According to confidential records reviewed by Reuters, Ramirez joined Damache in Ireland because she was dissatisfied with her life in Colorado.
Damache had promised to teach her Arabic and the ways of Islam. But within a month of arriving in Ireland, Ramirez began to regret the decision.
“I wish I was never stupid enough to come here,” she typed in a note reviewed by Reuters. “This man has no intentions to make this relationship work, ever … I am just a sex slave to him.”
According to an account of Thursday’s court proceedings by the Irish Examiner newspaper, Damache’s ex-wife, Mary Cronin, told the jury that he first introduced himself as a Frenchman named Alex Thierry Garnier and was not religious.
But his personality transformed between their 2002 marriage and 2008 separation, the Examiner reported. He became a practicing Muslim, and Cronin grew frightened of him.
During their final meeting, she testified, “He came to the house. I didn’t want to let him in. I was afraid of him. He had changed.”
Reporting By John Shiffman; Editing by Blake Morrison and Douglas Royalty