The Radical Cousins

On the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, the I-Team looked at a federal terrorism case that has received little attention in Chicago, possibly because the terror cell was headquartered in Ohio.

But the "radical cousins" who allegedly plotted bombings against American soldiers are from Chicago and are still in Chicago.

Since September 11, 2001, a primary goal of U.S. law enforcement has been to find terrorist "sleeper" agents who might be awakened to execute the next attack on America. Some investigators estimate that 5,000 al Qaeda network agents live in the U.S., blending into communities in 40 states. Among them were three men convicted in June of conspiring to plan attacks to kill or injure U.S. troops in Iraq and other countries.

Two co-defendants will be tried separately next February, men the government describe as "radical cousins." Twenty-seven-year-old Khaleel Ahmed and his 29-year-old cousin, Zubair Ahmed, are both U.S. citizens who live in Chicago. The first-cousins are charged in a plot to "kill, kidnap or maim …U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq."

The FBI continues to try to unravel the radical cousins' activities. Recent federal subpoenas the I-Team obtained reveal that authorities are still gathering telephone records and bank files as well as travel receipts for the cousins' trips to the Middle East since 2004.

The terror cell leader was former Hickory Hills resident Marwan el-Hindi -among those convicted in June on terrorism charges.

Prosecutors say el Hindi intended to use a jihadist video to train the radical cousins how to build suicide bomb vests, how to lace the device with steel pellets; how to wear it and what happens to a mannequin when the bomb blows up.

According to court records, Zubair Ahmed's address, while the plot took shape, was an apartment complex in suburban North Chicago. The apartment is a few hundred yards from the U.S. Navy's only basic training facility, known as Great Lakes, and right across the street from Great Lakes military housing. Zubair, a graduate of Chicago's St. Patrick High School and U of I Champaign, was studying medicine in North Chicago.

According to the indictment, Zubair Ahmed also wanted to learn "sniper tactics" and to train on a 50-caliber machine gun, saying he looked forward to "the final war of Islam."

Neither the postal service nor court records had a forwarding address for Zubair Ahmed. But the I-Team found Zubair Ahmed living with his wife in the Albany Park neighborhood on the North Side.

"I plead not guilty," Zubair Ahmed said.

His cousin Khaleel Ahmed lives with his father in an apartment building a block away. Khaleel works as a cashier in a nearby warehouse store. He declined to comment, but his father interrupted a Koran reading to defend his son. Iftekhar Ahmed Sr. says his son is no terrorist.

According to court records, the elder Ahmed posted property, some in Texas worth a half million dollars, as bond for his son's release.

After receiving letters from Ahmed's relatives, friends, professors and even a Chicago policeman, an Ohio judge ruled last year to free the radical cousins until trial. The dozens of letters cited their integrity and their "shock and outrage" over "the horror of 9/11."

Khaleel's lawyer Mike Slade provided a statement, saying he "denies the charges and will vigorously contest them at trial. [Khaleel] has been out on bond since April (of) 2007 and been behaving like any other law-abiding citizen. There have been no issues with his bond."

The Ahmed cousins are not alone. According to the U.S. Justice Department, they are among more than 100 defendants awaiting trial on terrorism charges or awaiting deportation. Recent federal records reveal that since the September 11th attacks, 527 people have been charged with terrorism in criminal cases.

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