Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Ashcroft
On Plea Agreements
Thursday, October 16, 2003

(Please Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)


This afternoon, I am announcing two plea agreements that effectively close out the prosecutions that have been filed in the Portland, Oregon, Terror Cell case. In this case, American citizens ... after September 11th ... attempted to travel to Afghanistan to take up arms against United States and coalition forces fighting there against the Taliban and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

The United States does not casually or capriciously charge its own citizens with providing support to terrorists. But the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, serve as constant, stark reminders that America has enemies in the world who seek to kill American men, women, and children, any way they can. Sometimes, the enemies are here at home.

In the face of this threat, the Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that the lives and liberties of American citizens are protected from terrorist plots. We will not overlook attacks on America by foreign nationals. We cannot overlook threats when made by United States citizens. Terrorism exists to destroy freedom as well as the lives of free people, and we will work to detect, disrupt and prevent it at every turn.

In the plea agreements, filed this morning in Portland, Oregon, Jeffrey Leon Battle and Patrice Lumumba Ford each pleaded guilty to one count of seditious conspiracy. This was the most serious charge in the indictments. The maximum penalty for this count is 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and a three-year term of supervised release.

Battle and Ford are the fifth and sixth defendants to plead guilty to charges stemming from the Portland cell case. Last month, Battle's ex-wife, October Martinique Lewis, pleaded guilty to money laundering charges for the purpose of assisting Battle in willfully supplying services to the Taliban. Also in September, co-defendants Ahmed and Muhammad Bilal pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges and conspiracy to contribute services to the Taliban. In August, defendant Maher Hawash pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply services to the Taliban.

In response to the September 11, 2001, attacks, President George W. Bush declared a national emergency and launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, during this important moment in our nation's history, when U.S. national security demanded a united effort by all Americans, certain citizens in our own country decided deliberately to fight for the enemy.

During this time, as laid out in the plea agreements, defendants Battle and Ford met with co-defendants Ahmed and Muhammad Bilal, Hawash, and Al Saoub in the Portland area and agreed that they would travel overseas to fight in Afghanistan against the armed forces of the United States.

To prepare for this trip, defendants Battle and Ford, along with co-defendants Ahmed Bilal and Al Saoub, conducted weapons training in a gravel pit in Washougal, Washington.

As stated in the plea agreement, both Battle and Ford knew that what they and the others were planning to do was a violation of law.

On October 17, 2001, Battle went to the Portland airport and flew to Hong Kong with co-defendant Al Saoub.

On October 20, 2001, Ford traveled from Portland to Hong Kong with co-defendants Ahmed and Muhammad Bilal where they met up with Battle, Al Saoub, and later Hawash.

The plea agreement details the group's plan to attempt entry into Afghanistan through China and Pakistan.

After it became clear that the group could not obtain entry into Pakistan from China, defendant Battle returned to the United States on February 5, 2002.

Defendant Ford returned to the United States in November 2001. But as the plea agreement details, he continued to aid defendant Al Saoub's efforts to get to Afghanistan to fight American forces. Defendant Ford admits to wiring a total of $983 through Western Union to defendant Al Saoub in China.

Since September 11th, the Department of Justice and FBI have taken actions against terrorist cells in Detroit, Seattle, Buffalo, North Carolina and Virginia. We have disrupted weapons procurement plots in Miami, San Diego, New Jersey, and Houston. We have attacked terrorist-affiliated charities in Chicago, Dallas and Syracuse. As of today, we have obtained 152 convictions of such persons as would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid and American Taliban John Walker Lindh.

The plea agreements in the Portland case would have been more difficult to achieve were it not for legal tools provided by the USA PATRIOT Act. Prosecutors gained access to information that they would not have seen had the PATRIOT Act not been signed into law, an action that tore down the artificial wall that separated intelligence from law enforcement personnel.

In addition, this case benefited from new PATRIOT Act authority that permits the issuance of nationwide search warrants for e-mail communication in the possession of Internet service providers.

Even Jeffrey Battle understood the importance of the PATRIOT Act. Listen to the recorded conversation between Battle and an FBI informant on May 8, 2002. In a conversation unsealed in court, Battle explained why his enterprise was not as organized as he thought it should have been (quote):

". . . because we don't have support. Everybody's scared to give up any money to help us. You know what I'm saying? Because that law that Bush wrote about, you know, supporting terrorism, whatever, the whole thing ... Everybody's scared . . . He made a law that says for instance I left out of the country and I fought, right, but I wasn't able to afford a ticket but you bought my plane ticket, you gave me the money to do it . . . By me going and me fighting and doing what they can, by this new law, they can come and take you and put you in jail."

The Portland cell case also highlights the cooperation enabled by the PATRIOT Act and the hard working team represented here today. Thank you to Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray, head of the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut, as well as former U.S. Attorney Michael Mosman, whose office initiated this case.

Thanks also to the FBI, represented today by FBI Executive Assistant Director for Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism Larry Mefford. Thanks also to the other federal agencies involved in the case, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, the IRS, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, the Social Security Administration Inspector General and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Special thanks go to the state and local law enforcement officials who played an integral role in this terrorist investigation. I now call upon Assistant Director Mefford for comments.