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Published: Wednesday, 5/7/2008

Informant was told not to train suspects in Toledo terror trial

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Joint Terrorism Task Force emerged in the Toledo area just months before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to ferret out possible threats to the United States, a special agent with the FBI testified yesterday.

The government's key witness in a terrorism trial, Darren Griffin, Special Agent Shannon Coats added, was one of the "tools" used.

Agent Coats, one of the FBI agents involved in the investigation of three local men charged with terrorism-related activities, testified in U.S. District Court about the role of Mr. Griffin as a cooperating witness in the case and the instructions Mr. Griffin received throughout the investigation.

The agent was the third witness to testify for the government in the trial of Mohammad Amawi, 28; Marwan El-Hindi, 45, and Wassim Mazloum, 26.

Agent Coats' testimony followed a weeks-long inquiry of Mr. Griffin by both the government and the defense. Mr. Griffin testified that he used hidden devices to record interactions with the three defendants, including what he testified were requests by the three men to "train" for holy war overseas.

Each of the three men is charged with planning to wage a holy war using skills they learned from Web sites. 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 provide "support and resources" to terrorists.

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

During questioning by federal prosecutors, Agent Coats said Mr. Griffin was sought out by the FBI after learning about him from the Drug Enforcement Agency, where he was an informant. Agent Coats said Mr. Griffin was asked to develop himself as an Islamic extremist, attend social gatherings in the Toledo Muslim community, and interact with people of interest.

The three defendants were not originally on that list of people of interest, Agent Coats said.

The agent testified that the FBI's primary objectives were to keep Mr. Griffin and his family safe, to verify the veracity of the information he provided, and to collect information, and later evidence, of any criminal activity.

He said the FBI reviewed each recording Mr. Griffin made of his interactions with the defendants, and that the FBI was aware of all of Mr. Griffin's activities during the course of the investigation.

Mr. Amawi's attorney, Edward Bryan of Cleveland, questioned Agent Coats about "entrapment" and asked specifically whether the FBI sought to conduct an investigation that was "objective and fair."

He then characterized Mr. Griffin's information-gathering techniques as "eavesdropping" on the Muslim community during a time when the American-Arab population was tense because of what was happening overseas.

"Were you concerned that [Mr. Griffin] might manipulate the fear of these men because of what was going on in the world?" Mr. Bryan asked.

"No," Agent Coats responded.

Agent Coats testified that Mr. Griffin was specifically told not to train the three defendants in explosives or sniper tactics.

"We absolutely were not going to allow Mr. Griffin to give specific guidance on how to build an [improvised explosive device] or how to conduct a sniper attack," Agent Coats said.

Agent Coats said Mr. Griffin was instead instructed to offer alternative types of "training" so as to keep the investigation going because the defendants spoke of other people who the FBI wanted to investigate as possible threats.

"There were a number of indicators on the part of the defendants that they had knowledge of other people who were interested in training for violent jihad," he said.

The previously recorded testimony of Jihad Dahabi was also played for jurors yesterday.

Mr. Dahabi, who was not available to testify in person, was questioned by both the defense and the government during a video recording made April 24, 2007.

Mr. Dahabi, who is an accountant, met with Mr. El-Hindi and Mr. Griffin in 2005 when the men tried to set up a nonprofit organization to obtain grant money. Mr. Dahabi testified he did not send in the completed paperwork because he was concerned about "fraud" and "terrorism" on the part of the two men.

Mr. Dahabi said in his testimony his concerns evolved from comments made by Mr. Griffin during the meeting held in 2005.

Agent Coats will return to the stand today for continued questioning by the defense. The trial will resume at 8:30 a.m. before Judge James Carr.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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