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Man indicted for attempting to arrange murder of Toledo federal judge

Plan focused on U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary

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    U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary, left, and Yahya Farooq Mohammad.

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    Judge Jack Zouhary

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    Yahya Farooq Mohammad, 37, allegedly told an inmate at the Lucas County jail he was willing to pay $15,000 to have U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary killed.

    LUCAS COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE

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    Toledo’s U.S. District Courthouse.

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Yahya Farooq Mohammad, 37, allegedly told an inmate at the Lucas County jail he was willing to pay $15,000 to have U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary killed.

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A man awaiting trial in the Lucas County jail for providing financial support to the al-Quaeda terrorist network was charged late today with trying to get U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary assassinated.

Federal investigators claim Yahya Farooq Mohammad, 37, of the United Arab Emirates, not only wanted the judge dead but also wanted his would-be assassin to make sure his body was not found.

Mr. Mohammad was indicted by a federal grand jury in Toledo for attempted first-degree murder of a federal officer, solicitation to commit a crime of violence, and use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.

He is believed to have put a contract out on the judge’s life from his jail cell.

The indictment claims he told a fellow inmate at the Lucas County jail he would pay $15,000 to have Judge Zouhary, who is presiding over his terrorism case, killed. Prosecutors presented evidence that showed Mr. Mohammad arranged for his wife to make a $1,000 downpayment, which she did on May 5, according to the indictment.

“When asked when he wanted the murder committed, Mohammad stated, 'The sooner would be good, you know,'” the indictment said.

Federal prosecutors said Mr. Mohammad did so to obstruct the terrorism case against him.

“This prosecution seeks to hold the defendant accountable for attempting to victimize the judge and for trying to undermine our criminal justice system,” Barbara L. McQuade, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said in a news release.

Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony of the FBI's Cleveland Field Division said, “Conspiring to have a judge killed is not the way to avoid being prosecuted. Now Mohammad will be held accountable for additional serious federal charges.”

Last year, Mr. Mohammad was extradited to the United States from the United Arab Emirates after a four-count indictment was unsealed Nov. 5 that alleged he and three others conspired to travel to Yemen in 2009 to provide some $29,000 in cash to Anwar al-Awlaki to commit terrorist acts.

Mr. Mohammad along with his brother, Ibrahim Zubair Mohammad, 36, of Euless, Texas; and brothers, Sultane Roome Salim, 41, of Columbus and Asif Ahmed Salim, 35, who most recently lived in the United Arab Emirates, are awaiting trial in that case.

All but Sultane Roome Salim are being held in the Lucas County jail. Magistrate Judge James Knepp allowed Mr. Salim to be released on a $500,000 property bond with strict conditions that he live with his mother and wife in Cambridge, Ohio.

Judge Zouhary denied bond for Ibrahim Zubair Mohammad and Asif Ahmed Salim, saying it was probable they would not appear for future court hearings.

Yahya Farooq Mohammad did not ask to be released on bond. His attorney, Thomas Durkin of Chicago, said Wednesday that because Mr. Mohammad was extradited from the United Arab Emirates and was not a U.S. citizen, he did not request a bond.

Asked about the latest indictment, Mr. Durkin said he intends to “vigorously contest these highly orchestrated and preposterous charges in court.”

“The charges against our client are hardly a surprise – only the delay in bringing them surprises us, which we believe speaks volumes about the government's confidence in the reliability of its own evidence,” he said.

The allegations laid out against Mr. Mohammad in the seven-page indictment read like a made-for-TV movie.

According to the indictment, Mr. Mohammad first told another inmate at the jail in March that he wanted to hire someone to kill Judge Zouhary. That inmate reported this to the FBI and later introduced Mr. Mohammad to an “undercover employee” of the FBI.

Mr. Mohammad told the undercover employee that he was willing to pay $15,000 to have the judge killed and that he did not want the judge found. The two allegedly worked out a code that they used when discussing the situation.

In a phone conversation April 26, Mr. Mohammad reportedly said he could either send the $1,000 downpayment the undercover employee requested to him directly through a mail courier or that the undercover employee could meet his wife in Chicago to exchange the money.

On May 5, the undercover employee reportedly met with Mr. Mohammad's wife at a post office in Bolingbrook, Ill., where she gave him $1,000 in U.S. currency in a white envelope. When he asked her about the remaining money to be delivered – about $13,000 – she said she would check with her husband.

On May 11, Mr. Mohammad is believed to have told the inmate who introduced him to the undercover employee that the rest of the money was coming from Dubai to Texas to Chicago to his wife to give to the hitman.

According to the indictment, the undercover employee arranged to meet Mr. Mohammad's wife to “show her something that would be of interest to her husband.”

On May 16, the two are believed to have met, and the undercover employee showed her a photograph purported to show the dead body of Judge Zouhary. He then told her he needed the rest of the money that was owed to him. Mr. Mohammad's wife said she would contact her husband.

Judge Zouhary could not be reached for comment today.

U.S. Marshal Peter J. Elliott of the Northern District of Ohio said in a news release that protecting the federal judiciary was “our highest priority. This is an example where we were able to work with our law enforcement partners to protect a judge and bring charges against a dangerous individual.”

Two of the new charges carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison, while the third charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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