Columbus’ Post 9/11 Would-Be Terrorists

Plotting the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Planning to blow up a shopping mall.  The September 11th terror attacks were certainly not the end of plots against targets in the United States.  Some of the plotting took place here in the Columbus area.  “Hatred At Home: Al-Qaida On Trial In the American Midwest” is a new book by Columbus-based author Andrew Welsh-Huggins.  In his book, Welsh Huggins traces the investigations and prosecutions of 3 Columbus men on terror charges.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins: These are three individuals who all lived in Columbus. Iyman Faris was originally from Pakistan, he attended the mosque on Riverview Drive that’s still there.  There he met some other people and two of the people he met were Christopher Paul who was actually from the Columbus area, [he] grew up in Worthington.  And the third person was Nuradin Abdi.  Abdi was a Somali immigrant to Columbus.  They had known each other, they worshiped together, sometimes they just hung out together.  On this day in question in 2002 they were at a Caribou Café in Upper Arlington, a suburb of Columbus and this was about ten months into the war in Afghanistan.  There had been a number of reports about civilian casualties and they were very upset about this.  And during the course of this conversation they tossed out some ideas, they just started getting a little hot and some comments were made, and it was from that meeting and particularly some comments made by Nuradin Abdi, that some of these prosecutions started to take form.

Hendren: Is there any doubt that terrorist is an appropriate description for the three?

Welsh-Huggins: You know that’s a really good question.  All three of these were charged under federal terrorism statutes.  In the case of Faris, he had a direct meeting with Osama bin Laden, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks.  He had met them in Afghanistan.  I refer to Abdi as more of an angry would-be terrorist.  His comment that day at the coffee shop was that he should just shoot up a shopping mall.  And then Christopher Paul had a number of contacts with alleged terrorists in Germany; he was actively communicating with a terrorist cell in Germany.  None of these three did anything.  They didn’t commit any act of terror, they didn’t set off a bomb, but this is the challenge the government faced.  And as attorney general John Ashcroft said, we’re not going to be prosecuting these individuals from the smoking rubble anymore, we’re going after people ahead of time, and if there’s a plot, we’re going to stop it.

Hendren: I was in the courtroom when Christopher Paul pleaded guilty.  And he seemed quite humble, and quiet-spoken and respectful.  And you try to square that with someone who’s accused of being a terrorist and it seems paradoxical.

Welsh-Huggins: Yeah and Judge Frost lectured Christopher Paul on the fact of trying to understand how someone could have, as the judge put it, perverted or twisted his religion.  I think with Paul let’s keep in mind that he grew up in Worthington; he was a high school kid, he was a really good gymnast. But then when he went to Ohio State, at some point he became a convert and I think he brought a convert’s zeal and passion to his cause, and when he felt that there were threats to his new faith he acted passionately to protect it.

Hendren: Andrew Welsh-Huggins is legal affairs reporter for the Associated Press in Columbus and the author of the book “Hatred At Home: Al-Qaida On Trial in the American Midwest.” All three plotters are serving sentences in federal prison.  Iyman Faris is serving his at the Supermax prison in Colorado.

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