Al-Marri pleads not guilty in federal court

March 24, 2009 5:10:27 AM PDT
A former Bradley University student has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and supporting terrorism. Ali al-Marri is accused of being an al-Qaida sleeper agent with ties to the organizers of the September 11th attacks.

Al-Marri was arrested back in 2001. His case was transferred to Peoria after he spent more than five years at a Navy brig in South Carolina.

This case has come full circle. Al-Marri was arrested in Peoria shortly after September 11th. He weaved his way through US Defense Department, first charged as an enemy combatant, and now after that has been dropped, he is back in the criminal justice system as a defendant.

Al-Marri appeared Mondayat the federal courthouse in Peoria. When he was taken from the courthouse Monday afternoon, he was under very heavy guard. Al-Marri is being held at the federal prison in nearby Pekin.

Monday was the first time Al-Marri had been seen in public in Illinois in six years, since being charged as an enemy combatant.

The native of Qatar, Al-Marri is named in a two-count criminal indictment alleging he helped al-Qaida around the time of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Because of the nature of the case, security is extremely tight around the Peoria courthouse. Teams of deputy US marshals patrolled the courthouse grounds.

Forty-three-year-old al-Marri and his family moved to Peoria shortly before September 11th, so he could allegedly attend graduate school at Bradley. Authorities said he had personal contact with Osama bin Laden and was in waiting to participate in a second wave of attacks in the United States.

"The Allegations themselves are extremely serious, and we have known that from the beginning. The allegations of what the government has made and our observations of al-Marri and his family, there's a huge disconnect. What we see is not what they tell us he was like. That may be because of the passage of eight years and what he's been through," said Lee Smith, al-Marri's attorney.

Al-Marri's attorney Andrew Savage said he expects the case to proceed to trial.

The judge Monday afternoon said he hopes a trial could begin sometime before the end of the year, but there are certainly signs and signals that a trial might not even be held in the case and that a plea deal could be struck at some point over the next few months certainly would be in the works.