Columbus, Ohio: A convicted Ohio terrorist had ties to a man convicted of plotting an attack on a French island as well as an al Qaeda suspect who met with some of the Sept. 11 hijackers and told them how to reach Afghanistan to train for jihad, according to a federal court ruling.
Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohamedou Ould Salahi sent Christopher Paul a fax in 1997 asking for advice on where to send would-be jihadists, or holy warriors, and later referred to Paul as "a man of great respect in Al-Qaeda," according to the ruling Friday by U.S. District Judge James Robertson in the District of Columbia.
Federal prosecutors had previously acknowledged the fax but had never said who sent it.
Robertson`s order referred to the fax as a key piece of the government`s evidence about Salahi`s recruitment for al-Qaeda.
Salahi met Paul in Afghanistan in 1992, apparently had contact with him in Germany in 1998 and then called him twice from Canada in 1999, according to Robertson`s order.
The ruling by Robertson supported a previous order that the government release Salahi. Messages left with Paul`s trial attorney and with the U.S. attorney`s office in Columbus, which prosecuted him, were not immediately returned Monday.
The 9/11 Commission report says Salahi was known to U.S. and German intelligence a decade ago and was living in Germany when he gave instructions to four men about how to reach Afghanistan to train for jihad.
Three of the men later became Sept. 11 hijackers — Mohamed Atta, Ziad Jarrah and Marwan al Shehhi. The fourth was Ramzi Binalshibh, who helped coordinate the 9/11 plot and now faces trial.
Salahi was arrested in his home country of Mauritania late in 2001.
The ruling also provided new details about Paul`s links to a Moroccan national also alleged to have ties with 9/11 terrorists. Karim Mehdi was sentenced to nine years in prison in France in 2006 in connection with alleged plans to attack the Indian Ocean island of Reunion in 2003, according to the U.S. State Department.
Friday`s ruling said Paul may have visited Mehdi in Germany for three weeks in 1993 and again for several weeks in 1997 or 1998. When Paul was indicted, prosecutors said a search warrant had found a postcard in Paul`s possessions addressed to him from "brother" Karim Mehdi. The State Department alleges Mehdi had ties to Ramzi Binalshibh and Ziad Jarrah.
Paul, 46, was the last of three Columbus-area men to plead guilty to charges they plotted separate terrorist attacks. Paul was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year and is scheduled for release in 2024.
He grew up in the Columbus suburb of Worthington where he was a star gymnast and known as a friendly and inquisitive student. He was accused of joining al-Qaida in the early 1990s and helping teach fellow Muslim extremists how to bomb U.S. and European targets.
He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction in terrorist attacks, and prosecutors agreed to drop charges of providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to provide support to terrorists.
The Justice Department accused Paul and two other men of discussing terrorist attacks during an August 2002 meeting at the Caribou Cafe coffee shop in Upper Arlington.
The other two also pleaded guilty: Nuradin Abdi in 2007 in connection with an alleged plot to blow up an Ohio shopping mall, and Iyman Faris in 2003 in connection with an alleged plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.