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Published: Saturday, 4/5/2008

Jury hears of 'holy war' prep

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With soft, measured voices, Mohammad Zaki Amawi and Darren Griffin spoke about the fight waged by their "brothers" overseas and the need to train for "holy war" while the violent sounds of death and war emerged from videos they were watching.

Recordings of lengthy conversations in the fall of 2004 between Mr. Amawi, a man charged with terrorism-related crimes, and Mr. Griffin, the government's paid informant, were played for jurors in U.S. District Court in Toledo yesterday.

The recordings - which contained graphic videos downloaded from the Internet including the beheading of an Arabic-speaking prisoner and the death of a U.S. serviceman - were played during the second day of Mr. Griffin's testimony in the trial of Mr. Amawi, 28; Marwan Othman El-Hindi, 45, and Wassim I. Mazloum, 26.

While machine gun fire erupted and the sounds of Arabic chants rang out, Mr. Amawi and Mr. Griffin spoke of the brothers' struggles while fighting in the Middle East. Mr. Amawi added that he wanted to be trained in fighting skills so as to be a benefit to his "brothers" overseas as well as to protect himself and his family.

In one conversation, with a video showing smoke billowing from the towers of the World Trade Center on a computer in front of him, Mr. Amawi expressed concern about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, because it was an attack where "you live."

He added that "killing Americans in Iraq is OK."

The three men are each charged with planning to wage a "holy war" using skills they learned on the Internet. Specifically, the government alleged that the three conspired to kill or injure people in the Middle East - including U.S. troops serving in Iraq - as well as providing "support and resources" to terrorists.

Mr. Amawi and Mr. El-Hindi also are charged with "distributing information regarding explosives."

If convicted, the men face up to life in prison.

Mr. Griffin's testimony, which is expected to last for more than a week, involves hours of recorded conversations with the defendants. It will be several days before defense attorneys are able to question him.

During opening statements Tuesday, attorneys for Mr. El-Hindi and Mr. Amawi told jurors that Mr. Griffin initiated most of the recorded conversations and that he "pushed" the conversations to talk of training for jihad.

Attorneys for Mr. Mazloum did not give an opening statement.

Yesterday's testimony focused mainly on interactions with Mr. Amawi. During one conversation, Mr. Amawi spoke of a friend, Wassim, who was also interested in training.

Mr. Griffin testified that he first met Mr. Mazloum on Nov. 17, 2004, at Mr. Amawi's home.

In the conversation, Mr. Mazloum said he could not support hurting "innocent people" and expressed concern that their beards would attract attention while they trained.

"We should have a goal," Mr. Mazloum said on the recording. "It's not just going there for fun."

"I'm learning this to use it against people who deserve it," Mr. Amawi said in the November, 2004, conversation. "We got to do it wise."

Prior to showing the downloaded videos in the courtroom, Judge James Carr, who is presiding over the trial, told jurors that some images would depict graphic violence.

He reminded the jury that simply possessing the videos is not illegal.

"You will see videos showing people being killed, including civilians and including at one point, American soldiers.•.•.•. You will see other videos that I suspect some or all of you will find horrific," he said. "The emotional response should pay absolutely no role in determining whether the defendants are guilty or not."

Mr. Griffin is the first witness in the trial, which is expected to last more than three months. He will return to the witness stand Tuesday when the trial resumes.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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