Jihad expert: Driver doesn't fit al Qaeda elite profile

 

crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Al Qaeda terrorists are the elite of Osama bin Laden's followers, gifted linguists with college degrees plucked from paramilitary training camps -- and don't fit the profile of a Yemeni truck driver with a fourth-grade education, a defense witness testified Wednesday.

''I don't see Salim Hamdan by any stretch of the imagination fitting this profile,'' said Brian Glyn Williams, in live video testimony beamed from the U.S. air base at Incirlik, Turkey.

Lawyers for Hamdan, 37, accused of conspiring with al Qaeda and providing material support for terror, called Williams as an expert on jihad warriors in Central Asia. He has traveled in Afghanistan, interviewed warlords and Afghan and Pakistan captives as well as done other field research.

''The terrorists, they are the elite. I call them the Harvard of the terrorist movement,'' said Williams, a professor of Islamic history at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

They are ''multilingual, adept at infiltration, very, very talented operatives,'' with advanced degrees who can blend into the West.

''They weren't run-of-the-mill riff-raff, the sort of cannon fodder that al Qaeda would use in military operations against the Northern Alliance,'' he said.

For more than a week the Pentagon prosecution at the first U.S. war crimes tribunal since World War II has cast Hamdan, a $200-a-month driver, as a trusted bin Laden aide.

At interrogation, according to federal agents' testimony, Hamdan allegedly boasted of his skill at maneuvering in motorcades to help the boss elude U.S. reprisal, and overheard from the front seat as plotters analyzed the 9/11 attacks after the fact. They said he served, at times, as a bodyguard and weapons courier.

Starting Wednesday, the defense sought to portray Hamdan to the jury of six U.S. military officers as something less than a sidekick -- a man who drove the Saudi millionaire for wages, not ideology.

Last week, prosecutors admitted as evidence a photo of Hamdan at a Ramadan feast in Afghanistan, shouldering an assault rifle. Also in the picture: Bin Laden and a head of the al Qaeda godfather's bodyguard team.

On Wednesday, defense lawyer Joseph McMillan introduced Williams as an expert by putting a photo of Williams holding an AK-47 assault rifle as he traveled with U.S. allied, Northern Alliance fighters.

Williams then testified that weapons are commonplace in tribal Afghanistan, where he was urged to carry one for personal protection.

For the second time, Hamdan missed a portion of the trial. Last week, he walked out in an unexplained dispute with his lawyer, as the prosecution was showing his battlefield capture video. On Wednesday, he missed a portion of his own witness' testimony because of a headache.

Judge Keith Allred, a Navy captain, told the jury that Hamdan ``has a headache, was given Tylenol and is resting. Please don't hold this against him if he comes in and sits down to rejoin us.''

His headache came on the eighth day of trial, following a week of pre-trial motions over which evidence would be admissible.

Prosecutors called 13 witnesses. They included nine federal agents who related his interrogations from Afghanistan to Guantánamo and two Special Forces soldiers who were near his November 2001 capture in southern Afghanistan, when two surface-to-air missiles were found in his car.

Also appearing were a counter-terror consultant hired by the Pentagon to make a movie about al Qaeda and a former ABC reporter who interviewed bin Laden in 1998 but could not identify Hamdan as one of the men who drove him to a terror training camp through tribal, remote Afghanistan.

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