Terror suspects face trial in New Haven

After nearly a decade of fighting extradition to the United States, Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan arrived in New Haven early Saturday from Great Britain on charges of aiding terrorist organizations.

The two suspects are accused of operating a website to raise funds, recruit fighters and provide material support for terrorists in Afghanistan and Chechnya — charges to which they plead not guilty on Saturday morning. The affidavit in support of extradition cited the Connecticut address of Ahmad’s Internet provider as the reason for holding the men in New Haven.

Ahmad and Ahsan are British nationals who have been held in Great Britain without formal charges since 2004 and 2006, respectively. The two arrived in the U.S. early Saturday along with three other suspects who all lost legal battles to prevent extradition from Great Britain. The other suspects, who face charges for the bombing of American embassies in Africa in 1998 and for attempting to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon, are currently being held in New York.

“Today I have lost my eight year and two month battle against extradition to the US,” Ahmad said before criticizing the extradition process. “By exposing the fallacy of the UK’s extradition arrangements with the US, I leave with my head high having won the moral victory.”

Ahmad’s father also denounced his son’s extradition, saying that “after over 40 years of paying taxes in this country, [he is] appalled that the system has let [him] down in a manner more befitting of a third world country than one of the world’s oldest democracies.”

Following Ahmad’s eight years of detention without formal charges, multiple advocacy organizations have formed to free the terror suspect and alter the extradition arrangements between the United States and Great Britain.

“Today we have seen the failure of our judiciary,” a British group called “We are Babar Ahmad” said in a press release Friday.

Cindy Buys, a professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Law specializing in extradition law, said the length of time Ahmad and Ahsan have been held without charges is primarily due to their own efforts in filing numerous appeals seeking to prevent extradition in British courts as well as at the European Court of Human Rights.

In a statement, the U.S. Attorney’s District of Connecticut Office commended those involved in the extradition process and said it continues to seek a fair trial for the suspects.

“The government’s commitment to presenting this case to a jury during a fair and open trial has never wavered,” U.S. Attorney David Fein said.

Ahmad and Ahsan’s situation is unusual compared to other terrorism cases because the suspects will be tried in U.S. Federal Court rather than sent to Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. dentention facility in Cuba that traditionally houses terror suspects.

Buys said use of federal courts rather than sentencing at Guantanamo Bay is likely a provision of preexisting extradition agreements between the U.S. and Great Britain. Citing other international extradition agreements, Buys said more terror suspects might be tried in the same way as Ahmad and Ahasan over the coming years due to the American military’s diminishing presence in the Middle East.

“Part of the reason they’re going to federal court is that we did not caputre them ourselves nor were they turned over to us abroad on the battlefield like many of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay,” Buys said. “This might be more common in the future.”

Neither the mayor’s office nor the New Haven Police Department have indicated any concerns over the safety of the New Haven community as a result of the court appearances. Though Ahmad and Ahsan are being tried in New Haven, the U.S. Marshal’s Office has handled the security preparations surrounding their arrival.

“It’s not our show. This is entirely federal. We have absolutely no involvement whatsoever,” New Haven Police Department Spokesman David Hartman said.

The U.S. Marshal’s Office could not be reached for comment.

Before his arrest in 2004, Ahmad worked in the IT department at the University of London, and Ahsan was training to become a librarian at the time of his arrest in 2006. If convicted, the two face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

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