U.S. complaint details failed plan for terrorist training in Oregon

A federal complaint unsealed yesterday offers new details into a failed plan to set up a jihad terrorist training camp outside Bly, Ore.

The complaint, filed June 20, charges British citizen Haroon Rashid Aswat, with offering material support to terrorists, knowing his efforts would be used to "kill, kidnap and maim persons and damage property in a foreign country."

The camp was initially promoted by James Ujaama, a former Seattle resident who was sentenced to two years in federal prison in return for his cooperation with federal investigators.

The complaint unsealed yesterday alleges that the camp was to seek fighters from the United States and London to wage jihad — or a holy war — in Afghanistan. The camp was to offer training in archery, combat, martial arts, rifle and handgun handling, all in a secure environment in a "pro-militia and fire-arms state," according to a fax cited in the unsealed complaint. Sources have said that Ujaama wrote the fax.

In the fall of 1999, Aswat flew to the United States carrying CD-ROM information on military conduct and on how to make bombs and poisons, according to U.S. officials. He visited Bly before traveling back to Seattle.

Aswat was taken into custody in Zambia last month in connection with the London transit bombings. British officials want to question him about 20 phone calls reportedly made on his South African cellphone to some of the four bombers who killed 52 people in the London attack, Zambian officials say. But it is unclear what — if any — involvement Aswat is alleged to have had in those attacks.

Aswat was returned to London over the weekend, and a judge at a hearing yesterday ordered him held there until Thursday pending an extradition request from U.S. authorities.

At that hearing, British prosecutor Hugo Keith, representing the U.S. government, said a witness once heard Aswat say he had been trained in Afghanistan and had met Osama bin Laden.

Aswat's lawyer, Hossein Zahir, indicated his client would challenge the extradition.

"He wishes to stress that he has nothing to hide," Zahir told the court. "He denies any suggestion that he's a terrorist or engaged in any terrorist activity."

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan declined comment.

The complaint closely parallels the 2002 indictment of Ujaama, who the government said first spotted the Bly property. Ujaama played a central role in promoting the idea of turning a remote ranch in rural Oregon into an international training camp for jihad fighters.

Ujaama, a graduate of Ingraham High School, was a Seattle entrepreneur who converted to Islam. He became an associate of Abu Hamza al-Masri, a militant London cleric. Abu Hamza would later praise the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; he is charged in Britain with attempted murder and fomenting terrorism.

Abu Hamza also faces a U.S. indictment for his role in trying to set up the Bly camp.

Back in 1999, Ujaama sought to persuade Abu Hamza to take up residence at the Bly ranch. A fax sent by Ujaama, cited in the complaint yesterday, noted the new Oregon training camp would be a place where the religious leader could not be removed "without a serious armed fight."

To scout the camp, Abu Hamza allegedly sent Aswat and another man, identified by federal sources as Oussama Kassir. They flew to New York, traveled by bus to Seattle and then drove down to the desolate ranch near Bly.

By then, the ranch had become a kind of retreat for a small group of Muslims who worshipped at a now-defunct Seattle mosque.

But Aswat was disillusioned with what he found at the ranch, according to sources who were there at the time and spoke to The Seattle Times in 2002.

On the night of their arrival, Ujaama lacked even a key to unlock the gate to the entry road. And Aswat and Kassir were escorted to two cramped, shabby trailers, which lacked running water. Food was scarce, and they supplemented their table fare by hunting rabbits and quail.

Aswat stayed at the ranch for about a month, according to the complaint unsealed yesterday.

While at the ranch, Aswat and Kassir met potential candidates for jihad training, established security passwords, and participated in firearms training, according to the complaint.

During the fall of 1999, the ranch drew scrutiny from Southern Oregon law-enforcement officials.

"There were reports of gunfire and of a large group of suspicious, or unusual, people there," Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger said in a 2002 interview.

Gunfire is common in rural Southern Oregon, where many residents carry arms and engage in target practice or hunting. But this information concerned the sheriff enough that he turned it over to the FBI. He heard nothing again until after the Sept. 11 attacks, Evinger said.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.