Trump administration transfers foreign terror suspect to US for trial in federal court
(CNN)The Trump administration has transferred an Algerian terror suspect from Spain to the United States to be tried in federal court rather than at the Guantnamo Bay naval prison.
Ali Charaf Damache was extradited from Spain and arrived in Philadelphia on Friday, where he made an initial appearance in court on charges of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, the Justice Department says.
In 2011, he was indicted in the United States and accused of conspiring with three others to recruit men to “wage violent jihad” in Europe and South Asia and of organizing a “violent jihad organization consisting of men and women from Europe and the US.”
Among those with whom Damache is alleged to have conspired, according to DOJ, is American citizen Colleen LaRose — also known as “Jihad Jane” — who pleaded guilty to following orders from alleged al Qaeda operatives in plotting to kill a Swedish artist over his drawings of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. LaRose was convicted and is serving time in prison.
LaRose was prosecuted in the US federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the same court in which Damache now faces charges.
Both President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have previously said that terrorism suspects should be held and tried at Guantanamo instead of facing charges in civilian courts.
“We’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes,” then-candidate Trump said of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Trump also suggested to the Miami Herald that he would support trying American citizens accused of committing acts of terror at Guantanamo Bay.
In a March interview with Hugh Hewitt, Sessions said Guantanamo is “just a very fine place for holding these kind of dangerous criminals.”
“In general, I don’t think we’re better off bringing these people to federal court in New York and trying them in federal court,” Sessions added, arguing that trial in federal court grants terror suspects representation by “court-appointed lawyers” and “discovery rights to find out our intelligence.”
The news of Damache’s extradition comes on the heels of Sessions’ first trip to Guantanamo Bay as attorney general earlier this month.
He spent part of a day touring the prison camp, along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and White House homeland security and counterterrorism adviser thomas Bossert.
“The purpose of the trip is to gain that understanding by meeting with the people on the ground who are leading our governmentwide efforts at (Guantanamo),” Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement at the time. “In addition to the Department of Justice’s role in handling detainee-related litigation, it is important for the Department of Justice to have an up-to-date understanding of current operations.”
The Justice Department did not say whether the Damache case represents a broader shift in Sessions’ views on the use of civilian courts or Guantanamo Bay. “The individual involved in this case was indicted in 2011 in federal district court,” Prior said in a statement. “The United States has consistently used the extradition process to obtain indicted fugitives who are overseas, so that they can stand trial in our federal courts.”
There are, however, several aspects of Damache’s case that would lead to his prosecution in federal court, according to a law enforcement source, including the fact that relevant witnesses and his alleged co-conspirators are in Pennsylvania.
What’s more, the European officials responsible for Damache’s extradition to the United States would have opposed an extradition to the Guantanamo Bay facility.
The American Civil Liberties Union expressed its support for Damache’s trial in federal court. “We welcome and support this announcement. Prosecuting terrorism cases in federal courts is the right thing to do,” the civil liberties group said in a statement Friday evening.
Damache, also known as “Theblackflag,” is set to appear again in court on August 28.