I-Team Report: Voices from the Desert

March 25, 2009 This is the untold story of a man named Ali Al-Marri, the so-called "sleeper agent" who was allegedly planted in Peoria by Osama bin Laden himself with orders to rise up in a second wave of attacks.

From the unending landscape of the Qatari wilderness to the unforgiving confinement of the federal prison, Pekin, Illinois. A vast distance - 7250 miles - separates Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri from his wife, five children and 11 brothers and sisters.

"They took me home and took my father. I didn't see him again," said Abdul Hadi Al-Marri, accused terrorist's son.

Al-Marri's oldest son was just an 8-year-old Middle Eastern boy trying to figure out life in Peoria on that day in late 2001 when he watched the FBI arrest his father.

The family had arrived in America here at O'Hare Airport on September 10, 2001.

As the planes hit the trade center towers the next day, the Al-Marri family wasl in a taxi to Peoria where Al-Marri was to attend graduate level computer classes at Bradley University. He had received his undergrad degree there ten years earlier.

Federal investigators said they had a trail of records proving that Al-Marri had a more sinister assignment: to carry out the personal orders of Osama bin Laden, with whom they say he met before leaving the Middle East, learning bomb-making and volunteering to become a martyr in a second wave of terror.

Miller Shealy was a prosecutor on the Al-Marri case.

"He's not Bonnie or Clyde. That's the whole point. He is something very different. He's more like Osama bin Laden," said Miller Shealy, former U.S. attorney.

U.S. officials declared him an enemy combatant and locked him up in a South Carolina military jail.

That's where Charleston criminal defense lawyer Andrew Savage and his wife Cheryl met Al-Marri.

For six years, as Al-Marri was held in solitary confinement, Savage worked to have him either charged with a crime or released.

Late last year, the lawyer traveled to Al-Marri's homeland to meet his family, inspect the bank where he last worked and check out his past.

"To satisfy our own curiosity about what is this mystery, is he really gaming us, is he really putting us on, are we really being made fools of," said Andrew Savage, Al-Marri's lawyer.

In Qatar, a video crew taped Savage's meetings with Al-Marri's brothers for a public affairs show he hosts on cable TV in Charleston.

"Wrong time and wrong place in America, that's it," said Hufayth Al-Marri, Ali's brother, when asked why his brother was arrested.

Al-Marri's brother Naji also attended Bradley University in Peoria.

"I lived a good life there. I stayed there almost seven years. I never had even a small thing happen to me there," said Naji Al-Marri, Ali's brother.

The same day Ali Al-Marri was arrested in Peoria, his brother Jarallah was detained in Pakistan and sent to Guantanamo where he was held for six years until being sent home.

"They just wake me up every ten minutes. And they knock the door and they say 'you OK? Are you good. You need anything?' They just keep me awake.And that's it. Just torture," said Jarallah Al-Marri.

Ali Al-Marri's wife Maha and five children have returned to Saudi Arabia.

"The first question she asked me was, 'they told me my husband had surgery, is he alright?' This is over five years, almost six years later and she still didn't know," said Cheryl Savage who met with the Al-Marri family.

And Al-Marri sent a message to his oldest son.

"He's asked me to ask you to be strong like he is to take care of your mother, to take care of your sisters, to take care of your brother until he can come home and be your father. He loves you very much and he misses you very much," said Andrew Savage.

He also now faces charges in Illinois of aiding Al Qaeda, a case supported by phone records.

Chuck: "You don't deny that he had contact with some of those people at that time?
Savage: No, if that is what the government case is, we surrender...Mere presence alone as you know is not sufficient to convict somebody, they are going to show that he was actively involved to do evil."

Prosecutors say Al-Marri learned evil when he trained with Al Qaeda and planned evil in a series of calls to the same phone numbers that the 9/11 attackers used. And they say he researched evil on his laptop, looked into chemical attacks and potential American targets.

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