New York Times
November 2, 2001

Terror Inquiry Is Using Law on Sedition


Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said yesterday in a newly filed court document that among the offenses being investigated by the grand jury looking into the Sept. 11 terror attacks was whether there was a "seditious conspiracy to levy war against the United States."

The assertion, contained in an indictment of a Jordanian student who was living in San Diego, where he attended college, was the first indication that seditious conspiracy is one of the areas being examined in the investigation stemming from the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The student indicted yesterday, Osama Awadallah, was not accused of seditious conspiracy, but rather was charged with two counts of perjury before the grand jury that has been investigating the attacks. He was accused of lying about his associations with one of the suspected hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar, who helped crash a jetliner into the Pentagon.

But in a background section, the indictment also lists some of the areas under investigation by the grand jury. Besides seditious conspiracy, they include such offenses as destruction of aircraft, bombing and related conspiracies.

Prosecutors had no comment last night. Mr. Awadallah's lawyer, Jesse Berman, said that his client would plead not guilty when he is arraigned on the perjury charges on Monday in Federal District Court in Manhattan.

Although the indictment offers no elaboration on how the government may seek to use the rarely used seditious conspiracy law, prosecutors could be searching for ways to charge suspects who cannot be directly linked to the deadly hijackings plot.

The Civil War-era seditious conspiracy law makes it a crime to "conspire to overthrow, or put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States."

The law was used most prominently in the 1993 prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric, and a group of co- defendants in the foiled plot to blow up the United Nations and other landmarks in New York City.

In the 1980's, the government successfully used seditious-conspiracy charges against a group of Puerto Rican nationalists in Chicago.

Mr. Awadallah's lawyer, Mr. Berman, said yesterday that the new indictment included nothing beyond two counts of perjury, the same charges originally leveled against his client in a criminal complaint filed on Oct. 19.

That day, Mr. Awadallah was ordered held without bond after a prosecutor, Robin L. Baker, told a magistrate judge that Mr. Awadallah's lies "promoted terrorism" and that if he were released on bail he might flee.

The indictment released yesterday offers some new detail about the case against Mr. Awadallah, who could face 10 years in prison if he is convicted on both counts.

It says that in a search of his car, the authorities found videotapes titled "Martyrs of Bosnia," "Bosnia 1993" and "The Koran v. the Bible: Which Is God's Word?"

The indictment also says that a search of Mr. Awadallah's apartment turned up computer-generated photographs of Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Awadallah's lawyer, Mr. Berman, called those allegations "window dressing."

"They're going after this presumably because they don't have anything more serious," he added. "This is to throw a bone to whoever wants to have somebody to prosecute."

Copyright 2001, New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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