US terror suspect 'was tortured by Saudis'

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The Independent US

An American citizen allegedly tortured in a Saudi jail was charged yesterday with conspiring to assassinate President George Bush and of being linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida terrorist organisation.

An American citizen allegedly tortured in a Saudi jail was charged yesterday with conspiring to assassinate President George Bush and of being linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida terrorist organisation.

In a six-count indictment, made public as Ahmed Omar Abu Ali made his first appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, the 23-year-old from Washington is said to have discussed the plans to kill Mr Bush with an unidentified co-conspirator in 2001, when he was living in Saudi Arabia. Federal prosecutors say he was a member of an al-Qa'ida cell.

He is accused of discussing two possible plots - one in which Mr Abu Ali would "get close enough to the President to shoot him on the street" and the other involved a car-bomb Mr Abu Ali would detonate.

The prisoner did not enter a plea yesterday. But his family claims US authorities put pressure on Saudi security services to arrest him there in June 2003, so he could be tortured for information. Through his lawyer, Mr Abu Ali offered to show the judge his scars. "My client was tortured," Ashraf Nubani told the court. "He has the evidence on his back. He was whipped. He was handcuffed for days at a time."

When the charge was read out that he had plotted to assassinate Mr Bush, more than 100 of his supporters in the courtroom, burst out laughing. Mr Abu Ali's appearance yesterday was a surprise, since there had been no indication he had been transferred back to the US.

But his 20-month detention in Saudi Arabia, with no access to lawyers and without charges, has already turned into a new instalment of the controversy over the denial of basic legal rights to even American citizens caught in the "war on terror".

Mr Abu Ali's family has brought a lawsuit in Washington trying to force the US government to explain its behaviour, charging that it had made him over to the Saudis because it had no evidence against him.

The Justice Department has asked for that case to be dismissed, saying its legal arguments for detaining him should remain secret, an assertion that runs counter to a basic tenet of the US justice system, that lawyers can challenge each other's arguments in open court.

Mr Abu Ali could face a maximum of 80 years in prison if convicted on all six counts.

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