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Published: Monday, 5/5/2008

Defense puts focus on role of informant in Toledo terror trial

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mr. Griffin, 42, took the witness stand April 2 in U.S. District Court in Toledo as the first witness in the government's case against Marwan El-Hindi, 45, Mohammad Amawi, 28, and Wassim Mazloum, 26. Over a period of eight days and using about 33 hours of audio and video clips, federal prosecutors used Mr. Griffin's testimony to present a timeline to jurors of how the three defendants planned to fund and support terrorism activities overseas.

And for an additional four days, defense attorneys for the three men used the same audio to debunk the government's allegations and raise questions about Mr. Griffin's credibility. Attorneys extensively questioned Mr. Griffin about his past of drug use and financial troubles and about the tactics he used during conversations with the three defendants.

The first month of a trial expected to last more than three months was dominated by the testimony of the former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces-turned-confidential informant. His testimony concluded Friday, although attorneys for Mr. El-Hindi suggested that he would be called again as a defense witness.

Throughout his testimony, Mr. Griffin outlined his interactions with the three defendants from 2003 through the end of 2005. Most of the evidence came in the form of audio and video clips, all recorded on hidden devices.

Griffin, center. Griffin, center.
Enlarge

The three men are each charged with planning to wage a "holy war" using skills they learned on the Internet. In the indictment released after their February, 2006, arrests, 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."

Mr. Griffin testified on his first day in the witness chair that he was a former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces who began working for the FBI in October, 2001.

To seek out terrorism activity within the Toledo Muslim community, Mr. Griffin assumed the identity of a U.S. Army veteran who was disenchanted with the government and sympathetic to Islamic extremists.

He testified that he started going to a local mosque and touting ideas of Islamic extremism. It was while posing as an extremist that Mr. Griffin encountered the three defendants at different times in 2004.

Federal prosecutors alleged that in mid-2004 both Mr. Amawi and Mr. El-Hindi were accessing "jihadist Web sites" in Mr. Griffin's presence to find suitable training videos.

Included in those videos were several that showed graphic images of sniper killings, roadside bomb explosions, and attacks on U.S. military and government sites.

Mr. Griffin testified that Mr. Amawi showed him upwards of 100 videos.

In January, 2005, Mr. Amawi downloaded a video that showed step-by-step instructions on how to construct - and explode - a suicide bomb vest, the government said.

The following month, in February, 2005, Mr. El-Hindi forwarded an e-mail he received from an Islamic extremist group that showed a photographic slide show on the placement and detonation of improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs.

The two videos, forwarded to Mr. Griffin by the men, led to the charges against Mr. El-Hindi and Mr. Amawi that they had distributed information regarding explosives.

During questioning by Mr. Amawi's and Mr. El-Hindi's attorneys, Mr. Griffin testified that he asked both men to give him copies of the videos - either on a disc or via e-mail. He then turned the information over to the FBI.

Throughout their cross-examination of the witness, defense attorneys questioned Mr. Griffin on whether he was "gathering information," as was his order from the FBI, or instead dominating, and in some cases leading, the conversation into talk of "jihad" and training.

Using the same recordings used by the government, the defense team highlighted conversations during which Mr. Griffin initiated talk of training and provided materials - such as training manuals and handguns - to the defendants.

"Did the government instruct you to take individuals and put together people who were otherwise not engaged in criminal activity?" questioned Timothy Ivey, who is representing Mr. Amawi.

Mr. Griffin's response was negative.

Mr. Ivey also pointed out that some of the videos downloaded by Mr. Amawi depicted images that would likely be considered offensive to those of the Muslim faith - including a montage of American leaders disparaging the Islamic religion - and that they were likely nothing more than an attempt by Mr. Amawi to show what was happening. All the defendants are Muslim.

Mr. Ivey added that most of the videos could likely be characterized as "propaganda" and not as "training videos."

When questioned for a second time Friday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Sofer, Mr. Griffin testified that many held training value - in one instance, how to place and detonate roadside bombs and in another, how to set up ambushes.

Attorneys for both the government and the defense focused questions on a Feb. 16, 2005, meeting at Mr. El-Hindi's home - the only time the three defendants met in Mr. Griffin's presence.

With the sounds of the El-Hindi family audible in the background, the men spoke of learning how to shoot weapons, the importance of security, and the need for funding.

In a discussion among the three defendants in Arabic, the men talked about what is needed most by their brothers overseas: money, weapons, or manpower.

Charles Boss, who is representing Mr. El-Hindi, questioned how active his client was in the conversations. Mr. Boss said that when Mr. Griffin spoke of training in several of the recordings, it was apparent Mr. El-Hindi believed that he was talking about physical training.

Federal prosecutors also showed videos recorded in April, 2005, when Mr. Griffin, Mr. Amawi, and Mr. Mazloum were target-shooting at the indoor range at Cleland's Outdoor World on Airport Highway.

Mr. Mazloum's brother, Bilal Mazloum, attended a second session at the shooting range where the men "trained with guns," government prosecutors said.

Mr. Mazloum's attorney, David Doughten, questioned whether there was any political discussion about jihad during the shooting sessions and pointed out that firing a gun is legal. He then said that the two trips to the firing range were among very few interactions between Mr. Mazloum and Mr. Griffin.

In fact, after their first encounter in November, 2004, Mr. Griffin personally met with Mr. Mazloum only six additional times over 14 months, he said.

The last of Mr. Griffin's testimony for the government focused on Mr. Griffin's trip to Jordan with Mr. Amawi in the fall of 2005.

The two men traveled to Mr. Amawi's home country with laptops and a satellite phone earmarked for Mr. Amawi's "contacts" and "brothers" overseas.

One of those contacts had allegedly asked Mr. Amawi to get the explosive Astrolite - a request that Mr. Amawi then made of Mr. Griffin.

Mr. Griffin admitted under questioning from Mr. Ivey that he funded the trip, which was among the upwards of $4,000 that Mr. Griffin spent on Mr. Amawi, and paid to send some of Mr. Amawi's property overseas.

He also admitted that the laptops were never delivered to the "brothers."

Mr. Ivey suggested that there was no delivery because Mr. Amawi really had no contacts among the insurgency. He also pointed out that despite extensive use of computers during the time of the investigation, there is no evidence of e-mail communications between the three defendants and there is no evidence that the three men traveled overseas together.

"As far as you know, these three individuals on trial here, despite extensive use of computers, there are no e-mails that you can produce," Mr. Ivey said.

Mr. Griffin said there was none.

Mr. Amawi, who has dual American and Jordanian citizenship, was arrested in Jordan in February, 2006, where he was still visiting and flown back to Toledo to face the charges.

Mr. El-Hindi, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in Jordan and was living in Toledo with his wife and seven children at the time of his arrest.

Mr. Mazloum, who is from Lebanon but is a legal permanent resident of the United States and who was living in Sylvania, was a University of Toledo student at the time of his arrest.

Judge James Carr told the jury of nine men and seven women that the trial is expected to last through the first of July.

It resumes tomorrow when the government will question its next witness.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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