Why America Wants The UK Terrorism Suspects

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Seth Jones is the forthcoming book Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qa'ida since 9/11. Seth Jones, why is the U.S. so intent on getting these terrorism suspects to stand trial on American soil?

Seth Jones: Well, several of them have been connected to terrorist activities in the United States. Abu Hamza al Masri, for example, who is an Egyptian Sunni activist, the charges against him will center around his material support to al Qa'ida including al Qa'ida activities that target the United States as well as his involvement in establishing training camps in the U.S. state of Oregon.

Werman: So material support, I mean that's not the same thing as organizing some plot or a bombing. What does that actually mean? I mean how dangerous are any of these men?

Jones: Well, Abu Hamza al Masri, and again, it's not entirely clear what the United States has on him. As we found in previous terrorism cases, when the United States decides to formally prosecute someone in court they will provide information based on signals intelligence intercepts declassified intelligence so there are some questions about how much involvement he has. If it can be demonstrated that he provided intelligence, money, pushing goods to al Qa'ida operatives overseas to conduct attacks he will be in pretty serious trouble in the U.S. court system.

Werman: One case we've been following is that of Babar Ahmed who allegedly ran a website geared to terrorists and he's been held in a British prison for eight years. Most people in the U.S. have never heard of him. Why does the U.S. want him so badly?

Jones: Well, the U.S. has prosecuted a range of individuals over the past several years for involvement in running jihadi websites especially ones that are encouraging individuals to target the United States and ones that are pushing finances to al Qa'ida. With the case of Babar Ahmed, he is accused of running Assam.com, a pro-jihad website and the issue then will hinge on what connections he has and has had to known terrorists plotting attacks against the United States and it's interests.

Werman: You've been writing about what we learned from counter terrorism strategies since 9/11, Seth. What does this case represent to the United States and the fight against terrorism?

Jones: Well, in the fight against terrorism this represents an increasing shift over the past several years to prosecuting individuals in civilian courts. I mean the Obama administration has attempted to prosecute some individuals in military courts but there is a much greater effort over the past several years to prosecute anyone involved in terrorist activity in civilian courts in the United States. This fits into I think a growing push from the Obama administration to get away from some of the previous efforts by the Bush administration on the military tribunals.

Werman: Describe for us the difference that will make in this whole so-called fight on terrorism that it will be tried in a civilian court.

Jones: A couple of things — one is in almost all cases of efforts to prosecute somebody in a civilian court there is much more transparency. Eventually that information becomes pubic. I mean I've used almost all of the previous civilian cases in my most recent book because it's publicly available. Second, it does add an air of legitimacy to prosecution because just the stigma of a military prosecution and a military tribunal provides some air of illegitimacy, at least it raises questions about whether it's a fair and open trial and I think a civilian court with a civilian judge often tends to undermine overseas concerns.

Werman: Seth Jones, author of the forthcoming Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qa'ida since 9/11. Thanks a lot.

Jones: Thank you very much.