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Accused Qaeda member goes on trial in N.Y. despite his absence

By Joseph Ax and Nate Raymond
| NEW YORK

NEW YORK An accused al Qaeda operative charged with engaging in attacks on U.S. forces that killed at least two American servicemen in Afghanistan is set to face trial on Monday in federal court in Brooklyn, New York.

Ibrahim Suleiman Adnan Adam Harun, also known by the nom de guerre Spin Ghul, or White Rose in the Pashto language, is accused of conspiring to kill Americans and providing support to a terrorist group, among other charges. An anonymous jury will hear the case, which is not uncommon in national security trials.

Harun, 47, is not expected to be in court. Since his extradition from Italy in October 2012, the Saudi-born defendant has insisted he is a “warrior” who should face a military tribunal rather than criminal proceedings and has registered his dissent through increasingly aggressive courtroom behavior.

Before one appearance last May, Harun scuffled with U.S. marshals, tore off his clothes, then disrupted the hearing by screaming from an adjacent holding cell.

He has refused to speak with his court-appointed lawyers for two years. At their request, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan is permitting Harun to monitor his trial by video from a jail cell.

At a hearing in February to determine if Harun was mentally fit to stand trial, a psychologist called by the defense testified that Harun was delusional, pointing to his refusal to shower while in jail.

But Cogan declared Harun competent, finding that his behavior was a deliberate act of protest.

“His lack of respect for this court and his rejection of these legal proceedings does not demonstrate his incapability of assisting in his defense,” Cogan said.

Harun was captured in Libya in 2005 and released in 2011 to a refugee ship headed for Italy before Italian authorities seized him and notified U.S. federal agents, who interviewed him in Italy, according to court papers.

Prosecutors say Harun, who says he is a citizen of Niger, admitted he joined an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. soil.

Harun engaged in numerous attacks against American troops along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, including one that killed a U.S. Army private and an Air Force airman, U.S. authorities said.

Eventually, Harun traveled to Nigeria, where he plotted to bomb the U.S. Embassy there, according to court papers.

Harun faces life in prison if convicted, but cannot be executed under terms of his extradition.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)

-Reuters