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Sailor accused of plotting to attack San Diego base

Times Staff Writer

A former U.S. Navy sailor, already charged with divulging classified ship movements to British extremists linked to Al Qaeda, also discussed details of a previously undisclosed plan to attack a San Diego military base in late 2006 with at least two other men, authorities said Wednesday.

Testifying in a federal court hearing in New Haven, Conn., FBI Special Agent David Dillon said Hassan Abujihaad, 31, of Phoenix had extensive discussions about the alleged plot with an Illinois man, Derrick Shareef, and to a lesser degree with an undercover FBI informant Shareef had introduced to him.

According to a court motion filed by federal prosecutors that was unsealed Wednesday, Shareef and Abujihaad talked in 2003, while they were roommates in Phoenix, of attacking a military recruiting station; in 2004 proposed attacking the unspecified San Diego base with sniper fire; and in 2006 took concrete steps to pursue such an attack.

Prosecutors are seeking to introduce evidence of the alleged plot at Abujihaad’s trial, set for early next month. That evidence includes wiretaps, statements from the informant -- himself a central participant in the alleged conspiracy -- and “efforts to obtain weapons and ammunition in connection with the proposed sniper attack,” said the 123-page motion.

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The prosecutors said Shareef and Abujihaad conspired to commit sedition, or to “put down the government of the United States, or levy war against it, or to oppose its force by authority” as well as to attempt to kill officers or employees of the U.S., particularly military members.

Lawyers for Abujihaad and Shareef could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Dillon and the informant testified for hours that Abujihaad and Shareef had talked frequently about the plot, plans to buy semiautomatic weapons and their anger at the U.S. for its treatment of Muslims worldwide. The court filing includes many snippets of those conversations, but most of the time the two men seem to be talking in code or seeking to avoid discussing details because Abujihaad suspected, correctly, that the FBI was wiretapping them.

In some conversations, Abujihaad appears reluctant to help carry out such an attack, in part because he knew FBI agents were watching him to see if he had relationships with extremists overseas. But in one taped call in November 2006, he told Shareef that he would support the alleged plot with “whatever I can . . . with whatever Allah has instilled me to . . . help out with,” the court filing says.

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Prosecutors acknowledged that after his arrest last December, Shareef said that his discussions with Abujihaad were “idle talk,” but those comments were dismissed as “self-serving.”

Prosecutors also acknowledged that in several calls, the informant appears to be initiating efforts to proceed with the plot and to buy weapons. “But that’s not the only evidence the government has,” said one Justice Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.

The alleged plan was to shoot up a barracks or cafeteria where military personnel would likely be unarmed, and then pick off people with sniper fire as they fled, according to Wednesday’s testimony and the court filing.

Prosecutors said the plans never got far, in part because Shareef became more interested in attacking holiday shoppers in Illinois with grenades that he planned to drop in garbage bins in a shopping mall. Then Abujihaad, a Muslim convert whose given name is Paul R. Hall, was arrested in March.

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On Wednesday, Shareef, 23, who is also a convert to Islam, pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. In his plea before a judge in Chicago, Shareef admitted to planning to set off grenades in the CherryVale Mall in Rockford, Ill., last December.

Authorities would not say whether Shareef, who faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, was cooperating in the investigation of Abujihaad. That investigation focuses at least in part on the former Navy signalman’s alleged ties to Al Qaeda-affiliated extremists in Britain, including a prominent religious leader named Babar Ahmad.

Authorities have charged Abujihaad with providing extremist websites operated by Ahmad and others with classified information about the location of Navy ships and the best ways to attack them.

Abujihaad exchanged e-mail messages with Ahmad while on active duty on the guided-missile destroyer Benfold in 2000 and 2001, according to an FBI affidavit. In those messages, Abujihaad also praised Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and those who attacked the U.S. destroyer Cole in 2000, the affidavit said.

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Wednesday’s hearing was held to determine whether prosecutors may introduce evidence about their new allegations at Abujihaad’s trial, even though he has not been charged in connection with the alleged conspiracy.

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josh.meyer@latimes.com


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