COLUMBUS - An Ohio man accused of joining al-Qaeda and plotting to bomb European tourist resorts and U.S. military bases overseas has agreed to plead guilty, according to federal court documents filed yesterday.
Christopher Paul, 44, a U.S. citizen who grew up in the Columbus suburb of Worthington, was to be tried next year. He is expected to plead guilty today to one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction - specifically bombs - in terrorist attacks, a deal that would carry a 20-year prison sentence, documents show.
Paul's plea agreement, first reported by the Columbus Dispatch on its Web site, indicates that U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost must still approve the deal. The agreement notes both Paul and the government have the right to withdraw from the arrangement if Judge Frost does not accept the recommendation for a 20-year sentence.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment. Paul's attorney, Jim Gilbert, said the documents speak for themselves.
An indictment filed in April, 2007, alleged that Paul traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan, beginning in 1990, to meet members of al-Qaeda and to attend terrorist training camps with a goal of carrying out holy war attacks.
Paul joined al-Qaeda and traveled to Germany in 1999 to train co-conspirators to use explosives to attack European and U.S. targets, the indictment said. Paul plotted to bomb government buildings overseas and European vacation spots frequented by American tourists.
The indictment does not name specific resorts or buildings that might have been targeted, but gives U.S. embassies, military bases, and consular premises as examples.
Paul's alleged terrorist ties have long surprised former classmates, who knew him better as a middle school wrestler who turned to gymnastics in high school in Worthington, a quaint suburb on the north side of Columbus.
Paul was never in trouble and was always smiling and friendly to those around him in school, Sterling Apthorp, a former assistant principal at Paul's high school, said yesterday.
One of a handful of black students in the predominantly white school, Paul never showed any ill will toward the community or country, Mr. Apthorp recalled.
Paul is the last of three Columbus-area acquaintances charged with terrorist activities after the FBI opened an investigation more than five years ago.
Iyman Faris, a U.S. citizen originally from Pakistan, pleaded guilty in May, 2003, to providing material support for terrorism. Faris was convicted of plotting to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The other man, Somali immigrant Nuradin Abdi, pleaded guilty in July to one charge of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. He had been accused of planning to bomb an unspecified Columbus-area shopping mall, an attack that never occurred. He is serving a 10-year sentence, then will be deported to Somalia.