Hassan Abu-Jihaad, Former U.S. Sailor Who Leaked Navy Secrets, Sentenced To 10 Years

Mark Spencer - The Hartford Courant - April 4, 2009

NEW HAVEN - - In what a federal judge called a betrayal of his country and fellow service members that stretched from San Diego to the Persian Gulf and London by way of Connecticut, a former U.S. sailor was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison.

Hassan Abu-jihaad was a signalman on the guided missile destroyer USS Benfold when his San Diego-based battle group was ordered to the gulf to participate in operations against Iraq, the Taliban and al-Qaida.

A jury convicted him in March 2008 of providing terrorist sympathizers who ran a London-based Internet business with classified information on his battle group's movements, which could have made it vulnerable to attack. Abu-jihaad was prosecuted in New Haven federal court because his e-mails were routed through computers in Connecticut.

Judge Mark R. Kravitz said Abu-jihaad's actions were a "fundamental betrayal of your county and your oath" that endangered the United States and his shipmates.

Abu-jihaad, 33, a divorced father of two, converted to Islam in 1995 and lived in Phoenix. Prosecutors said Abu-jihaad, which means "father of holy struggle" in Arabic, sent e-mail to two computer experts accused of running Azzam Publications, the al-Qaida-connected Internet business in London in 2000 and 2001.

In arguing for the maximum sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Nardini said Abu-jihaad in e-mails praised the October 2000 terrorist suicide attack on the USS Cole - in which 17 sailors died - as effective psychological warfare and a "martyrdom operation."

"He believed that dying in a fight against the United States would make him a martyr," Nardini said. "It's a twisted mind-set."

Abu-jihaad, who did not address the court at is sentencing, said through his attorney that he maintains his innocence.

Abu-jihaad's actions were revealed when British authorities searched the home of Babar Ahmad, who ran Azzam Publications with Syed Talha Ahsan. The two British citizens were arrested in 2004, and U.S. authorities are trying to extradite them. The case is now before the European Court of Human Rights.

The New Haven jury also convicted Abu-jihaad, born Paul R. Hall, of material support of terrorism, which also carried a maximum sentence of 10 years. Kravitz overturned that conviction last month, citing reasons "largely related to the language" of the applicable federal law.

Nora R. Dannehy, acting U.S. attorney for Connecticut, said Friday that prosecutors had not decided yet whether to appeal Kravitz's decision on the dismissed charge.

Dan LaBelle, one of Abu-jihaad's attorneys, immediately filed an appeal after he was sentenced Friday.

Hassan Abu-jihaad (Timeline)

  • Dec. 24, 1975: Hassan Abu-jihaad, then named Paul R. Hall, is born.
  • 1995: Hall converts to Islam, legally changing his name to Abu-jihaad, which means "father of jihad."
  • December 1997: Abu-jihaad enlists in the Navy.
  • Jan. 6, 1998: Abu-jihaad gains "secret" security clearance.
  • Late 2000: Abu-jihaad allegedly begins an e-mail correspondence with those at a collection of websites in London run by Azzam Publications. Some e-mail allegedly originates aboard his ship, the USS Benfold, which becomes part of the Constellation Battle Group.
  • March 2001: Classified Navy ship movements, eventually dubbed the battle group document, allegedly are transmitted by Abu-jihaad to Azzam.
  • Spring 2001: The Constellation Battle Group leaves San Diego for the Persian Gulf. The group is scheduled to pass through the Strait of Hormuz, leading from the Indian Ocean into the Persian Gulf, on or about April 29.
  • July 2001: Abu-jihaad allegedly e-mails Azzam regarding the military reaction to the October 2000 terror attack on the USS Cole. The e-mail says the attack has caused "psychological anxiety" to "set in on America's forces everywhere."
  • Jan 25, 2002: Abu-jihaad is discharged from the Navy and settles in Phoenix.
  • 2003: Abu-jihaad befriends Derrick Shareef at the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix. Shareef lives in Abu-jihaad's Phoenix home for about seven months. The FBI says they began discussing "the terms and justification for jihad."
  • December 2003: British officials find the battle group document while searching a London house belonging to the parents of Babar Ahmad, one of two men who run Azzam.
  • Oct. 6, 2004: A federal grand jury in Bridgeport indicts Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, both British citizens, along with Azzam Publications, on charges of providing support to terrorists.
  • Late 2004: Shareef moves to the Chicago area but remains in telephone contact with Abu-jihaad. Among other things, they allegedly discuss ways to maximize casualties during an attack on a military base near San Diego.
  • September 2006: Shareef befriends Muslim convert William Chrisman in suburban Chicago. Unbeknownst to Shareef, Chrisman is an FBI informant. Shareef introduces Chrisman to Abu-jihaad. Authorities say they then link Abu-jihaad, through recorded conversations, to the battle group document and plans to mount terror attacks.
  • Nov. 22, 2006: The FBI records Abu-jihaad and an "associate" discussing a video depicting an Iraqi insurgent known as the "Juba sniper" killing U.S. military personnel.
  • Dec. 6, 2006: Shareef is arrested and charged with conspiring to attack Christmas shoppers with hand grenades at a suburban Chicago shopping mall.
  • March 7, 2007: Abu-jihaad is arrested in Phoenix and charged with supporting terrorism with an intent to kill U.S. citizens and transmitting classified information to unauthorized people.
  • Feb. 25, 2008: Abu-jihaad's trial in U.S. District Court begins.

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