Ali al-Marri Pleads Guilty

May 8, 2009

A supporter of al Qaeda pleads guilty in federal court. His name: Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello I’m Neal Schiff and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. A supporter of al Qaeda pleads guilty in federal court. His name: Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri.

Mr. Cummings: “Ali al-Marri did extensive research on a number of issues involving chemicals and poisons. He did research on cyanide compounds including hydrogen, potassium, and sodium cyanide compounds.”

Mr. Schiff: That’s Art Cummings, Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s National Security Branch.

Mr. Cummings: “ He looked at different toxicity levels, locations where the items could be purchased, and specific pricing for the compounds. These were not consistent with any of the work he’s ever done in any job that we could find.”

Mr. Schiff: In court, al-Marri admitted to providing what is called “material support” to al Qaeda and could serve 15 years in prison and be fined when sentenced this summer.

Mr. Cummings: “He’s a 43-year-old dual national Saudi and Qatari citizen, and he pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to al Qaeda that included himself as the material support. Back in, I believe it was 2005, the Patriot Act was amended to include human services to al Qaeda as material support, and he provided his services to al Qaeda.”

Mr. Schiff: Can you define “service support?” What was he doing?

Mr. Cummings: “ Sure, let me give you an example. If, prior to the modification of the law, the material support law, which was the 1996 law, which was the anti-terrorism and affective death penalty act of 1996 that made material support to terrorism illegal. You provide material; that means anything from weapons to communications; anything that enhances their capability in the form of material. It didn’t, at the time, include someone who attended a training camp that would provide themselves, a body, as a tool that al Qaeda or a terrorist organization would use. That was then added, I believe, in I think it was 2005, to be included as part of the definition of material support. That’s what Ali al-Marri did, mainly. He provided himself as a resource for al Qaeda, as a terrorist, as an operator, someone who would take action on behalf of al Qaeda. He attended al Qaeda training camps; he did research on behalf of al Qaeda, and then he actually volunteered himself to al Qaeda to be an agent or a terrorist on behalf of al Qaeda, to conduct operations, and in particular, to conduct operations in the United States.”

Mr. Schiff: Cumming says al-Marri was a recruiter for the terrorist organization and did that right here in the U.S.

Mr. Cummings: “All of the evidence and all of the intelligence and information points to an individual that was setting up a facilitation network within the United States for a coming attack post September 11, 2001. He actually entered the United States on September 10th as ordered by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, to enter the United States specifically prior to 9/11, and then to be here as, what many refer to as, ‘a sleeper agent.’ To be here when the time was right to light off a second attack sometime after September 11th, a time frame that has not been determined or was not. But he was here, really, to set up facilitation.”

Mr. Schiff: Cummings says that Ali al-Marri came to the U.S. in the ‘80s and spent time in college and was seen as a regular guy studying computer science.

Mr. Cummings: “He was actually characterized as a pony-tailed womanizer; he was a drinker. He had been stopped a number of times for driving under the influence. And then he left the United States in ’91 and sometime between ’91 and 2001 he became extremist and radicalized. He went to Qatar, or Qatar, some people pronounce it Qatar, and while there he worked in a bank, and then he began at some point attending al Qaeda training camps, he changed his dress; he began to dress more traditionally as a devout Muslim. No evidence of that while he was in the United States previously, and then history shows us, and the collection shows us, that then he became radicalized and started attending, actually, al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.”

Mr. Schiff: Al-Marri got his degree in computer science at Bradley University. Cummings says he wasn’t the most sophisticated person around but that he received instructions on how to code his communications, his writing.

Mr. Cummings: “So on e-mail and telephone communications, he used a code. And in fact a code that he used with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and with other al Qaeda types that in fact were trained. And in fact, some of the 9/11 hijackers actually used the same code that Ali al-Marri used. So, not particularly technologically sophisticated, but a code that was applied that if you really didn’t really know the code you probably weren’t going to break it real soon. Very deliberate to hide his communications; both telephonic and Internet communications; e-mail communications. So very smart, but again, very consistent with al Qaeda, and the traditional al Qaeda. The al Qaeda that was training in Afghanistan all through the ‘90s and that actually executed the attacks in 2001.”

Mr. Schiff: How did all this come together that Ali al-Marri was arrested? Cummings says a Joint Terrorism Task Force in Illinois and other similar task forces around the country working together.

Mr. Cummings: “A partnership with state and local police, mainly. And we have today, nearly a thousand individuals contribute to task forces, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force is staffed very strongly by partners. This case was worked in our Springfield ( Illinois) office by a Joint Terrorism Task Force, a joint group. And then we also leveraged the work of the Peoria ( Illinois) Police Department, that had some historical records of Ali al-Marri from when he was here in the ‘90s, and some of his arrests. And then, prior to September 11th, but just prior, Ali al-Marri had a, there was an incident with the Peoria Police Department where he was pulled over, I believe, for some traffic infraction. He was going to be arrested because of his prior warrants that he never was arrested for. And the police officer took him back to his apartment or motel room that he was staying in with his family; this was really literally weeks before 9/11, and (the officer) observed a large amount of money, cash in a suitcase, in the hotel room; just thought it was suspicious and reported it to us and we started looking at him from a suspicious standpoint. And then there were other records that we worked with the intelligence community on relative to telephone calls made to 9/11 co-conspirators, and that brought us back to the same individual, Ali al-Marri.”

Mr. Schiff: We asked Cummings how important the guilty plea of al-Marri is to the United States and its citizens.

Mr. Cummings: “Well clearly, in this case, it’s exceedingly important because this was an individual who was in the United States and who was planning a second attack. Absent the great work of the intelligence community, law enforcement, and everybody collectively on this, we would have had a second attack within the United States. And again, this was a product of some great work. But Ali al-Marri is illustrative of a single person that was brought to our attention and that we found and that we investigated.”

Mr. Schiff: Cummings says the fight against terrorism has and will always have that green light.

Mr. Cummings: “Terrorism is here and has been here for a long time. It’s all about scale and how big and how much momentum a certain organization gets around the world. This has become global. Al Qaeda is a global movement. They have al Qaeda affiliates all over the world that act on behalf of or in sympathy with al Qaeda. Therefore, you have a world coalition, essentially, that is acting against this single threat, which is what al Qaeda has defined itself as. It won’t go away anytime soon but as long as we keep it on the run and keep pressure on it and attempt to localize the problem; push them to an area where they have a very narrow operating environment, we begin to gain the momentum and take that momentum away from them. I will acknowledge they had the momentum in 2001. They don’t have the momentum today and if we let up, make no mistake about it, they will attempt to gain that momentum again. They are not gone, and as we continue to pursue them, we’ll continue to control them to the extent that we can.”

Mr. Schiff: There’s more on the guilty plea of Ali al-Marri, the FBI’s role around the word in the fight against terrorism, and much more on the Internet at That concludes our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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