U.S. Inquiry Said to Focus on 2 Mosques In Seattle
SEATTLE- A federal grand jury is investigating a group of people affiliated with two defunct Seattle mosques for possible ties to Al Qaeda, a lawyer for a former mosque member said today.
"The grand jury is looking into a lot of things," said the lawyer, Robert
Leen, who declined to be specific
Mr. Leen confirmed the inquiry in an interview, after The Seattle Times reported today that investigators here had identified a half-dozen core members of the group but had gathered information on more than 100 others who had dealings with one of the mosques, Dar-us-Salaam.
The newspaper said members of the group had ties to Abu Hamza al-Masri, a suspected Qaeda recruiter who was born in Egypt, runs a London mosque and is wanted in Yemen on terrorism charges. Mr. Masri told The Associated Press after the Sept. 11 attacks that it would be a blessing if God destroyed the United States. Only today, he attended a London meeting of several militant Muslim leaders, who joined in condemning the United States.
The Times also said federal investigators believed that the Seattle group might have scouted a ranch near tiny Bly, Ore., in the fall of 1999 as a possible site for a terrorist training camp. Bly is in Klamath County, whose sheriff, Tim Evinger, said today that the ranch had "never been off the radar screen of the joint terrorism task force" led by the Portland office of the F.B.I. He declined to give details.
Mr. Leen, the lawyer who confirmed the inquiry, represents Semi Osman, 32, who is charged with trying to obtain citizenship fraudulently and with owning a handgun whose serial number was removed. Mr. Osman was born in Sierra Leone, holds a British passport and has lived in the United States since the late 1980's, Mr. Leen said.
Mr. Osman formerly attended the Dar-us-Salaam mosque, which closed after being damaged in an earthquake in February 2001. It is members of that mosque, and of one that opened nearby after the earthquake, who have been under investigation, Mr. Leen said.
The F.B.I. and the United States attorney's office here declined to comment.
But in Bly, Kelly Peterson, a local truck driver and cowboy who previously trained horses for the ranch's owner, Ivan Fisher, said Mr. Osman lived at the ranch with a woman and two children for about three months in 1999.
Mr. Peterson and other Bly residents said Mr. Osman had been known around town as Sammy and had stood out in his tunic and skullcap. Mr. Peterson said that he had heard gunfire at the ranch but that "people fire guns around here all the time." He said he had seen nothing out of the ordinary there.
Regarding Mr. Osman's stay at the ranch, Mr. Leen, his lawyer, said, "I don't think your information is inaccurate." Mr. Leen was clearly familiar with the ranch, volunteering the name of Mr. Fisher, the owner, and saying, "Ivan Fisher raised sheep there, that's true."
Mr. Leen said Mr. Osman had refused to cooperate with investigators. He said that Mr. Osman was not a terrorist but that "it's true he was a member of a mosque where it's clear there were some things going on that probably bear some investigation."
A spokeswoman for the Seattle Police Department, Deanna Nollette, said several people at the Dar-us-Salaam mosque told officers who investigated a 1998 assault that a large number of weapons were stored inside the building. She declined to comment further.
Mr. Osman was arrested on the fraudulent-citizenship charge this May, after accusations that he had entered into a sham marriage in the early 1990's to gain citizenship. Besides the handgun, investigators serving a search warrant found a visa application for Yemen and a passport from Lebanon. The passport, issued in 1981, bears Mr. Osman's photograph but the name Sami Samir el-Kassem, documents filed in federal court in Seattle show.