U.K. Webmaster accused of aiding terrorists

Feds are seeking extradition, alleging 26-year-old used the Internet to "recruit mujahideen" and raise funds for jihad.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read
British police have arrested a U.K. citizen on charges that he operated Islamic fundamentalist Web sites that preached "violent jihad."

The arrest of Syed Talha Ahsan on Wednesday came at the request of the U.S. government, which released a 14-page indictment (click for PDF) accusing him of selling books, videotapes, audio cassettes, and CD-ROMs that glorified "violent jihad in Chechnya, Bosnia, Afghanistan" and funneling money to groups that were deemed illegal by the federal government.

The Web sites, including azzam.com, azzam.co.uk, qoqaz.net and qoqaz.co.uk, tout the virtues of jihad, primarily against the West and allied nations. One Web page posted soon after Sept. 11, 2001 saved by Archive.org includes an "Urgent appeal to defend Afghanistan" and features defiant quotes from the Taliban threatening any nation that aids the U.S. in its military operations.

Another Web page describes Abu Ubaidah, who it says died on a jihad in 2000 while fighting the Russians in southern Chechnya.

The indictment claims that Ahsan, a 26-year-old London resident, distributed CDs and videotapes that were illegally "eulogizing dead fighters, for the purpose of recruiting individuals and soliciting donations to support the mujahideen" and that he "possessed various materials, including literature supporting violent jihad throughout the world."

The name "Azzam"--which appears in the Web sites' domain names--apparently refers to Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, who died in 1989 and is widely considered to have laid the foundation for the militant Islamic fundamentalist movement with which Osama bin Laden is commonly associated. Some of the Web sites were allegedly located in Connecticut, Nevada, Ireland and Malaysia.

The federal government has requested that Ahsan, who is currently being detained without bail in the United Kingdom, be returned to the United States for trial. If extradited and convicted, he could face life in prison on charges of participating in a conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists; aiding others in providing material support to terrorists; and criminal conspiracy.

Among other allegations, the indictment says Ahsan corresponded via e-mail with a U.S. Navy enlistee and obtained then-classified plans of a naval battle group operating in the Straits of Hormuz, between Iran and the United Arab Emirates, which also discussed "the Naval Group's vulnerabilities to terrorist attack."

The federal government has tried to portray Ahsan as one of several members of a broader conspiracy to aid terrorists. Another alleged member of the group, Babar Ahmad, faced similar charges from the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut in October 2004.