A Saudi man accused of killing two American soldiers during a 2003 skirmish on the Afghanistan border was described as a proud and unabashed jihadist who “made it his life’s work” as an unusual terror trial with an absent defendant began in federal court in Brooklyn on Monday.
Ibrahim Suleiman Harun Hausa “proudly proclaimed his enduring loyalty to al-Qaida,” prosecutor Matthew Jacobs told jurors in opening statements. “The defendant committed these crimes overseas, but his targets and victims were Americans.”
Harun, 45, contends that he should be held and tried by a military court as a soldier, and has refused to attend his trial. A translation was piped to the federal jail in Manhattan where he is being held, and U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan told jurors to disregard his absence.
The government has accused Harun, also known by his nom de guerre, Spin Ghul, of conspiracy for participating in the firefight that killed soldiers Jerod Dennis, of Oklahoma, and Raymond Losano, of Arizona, and later trying to mastermind a plot to blow up the U.S. embassy in Nigeria.
When that plot was exposed, he fled to Libya, was taken into custody there and put on a boat to Italy, where he was arrested by Italian authorities and later transferred to U.S. custody.
Jacobs said Harun came to Afghanistan to join al-Qaida in the weeks before Sept. 11. Housed in a terrorist guesthouse, the prosecutor said they “celebrated” as news of the attack spread, and he subsequently received training in missiles, machine guns, grenades and other weaponry.
Harun admitted being part of an al-Qaida team that was firing missiles at a U.S. base in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and using a machine gun and rocket-propelled grenades in an ambush of a squad of U.S. soldiers that responded to the missile launches.
Jacobs said a Quran with Harun’s fingerprints was left at the scene of the battle, and fellow soldiers would describe watching Losano, who was shot in the jaw, and Dennis, who bled to death from a leg wound, “hanging helplessly to the last moments of their lives.”
Defense lawyer Susan Kellman did not present an alternate version of the case — she even conceded that Harun had pledged loyalty to al-Qaida — but accused prosecutors of appealing to “fear and prejudice” with references to Sept. 11, and asked jurors to not lose track of the presumption of innocence.
“The government’s opening is meant to set a tone — a tone that is aimed at overwhelming your sound good judgment,” she said, urging the panel to be skeptical of testimony from former associates of Harun cooperating with the government in hopes of currying favor.
“Mr. Harun may not share your world view, but is that a reason to convict him?” she said.