On March 7, 2007, US authorities announced the arrest of Hassan Abujihaad, also known as Paul Hall, in Phoenix, Arizona on charges of espionage and providing material support to terrorists by transmitting classified information with intent to kill US citizens. Abujihaad, a former US Navy sailor, was on active duty from 1998 to 2002. During that time, Abujihaad exchanged emails with a terrorist support organization that included classified information on Navy battle groups and their movements. If convicted, Abujihaad faces a maximum of 25 years in prison.
US authorities had launched an investigation of Abujihaad following a December 2003 raid of the home of Babar Ahmad, in London by British police. During the 2003 raid, British authorities uncovered emails and other electronic files of correspondence from Abujihaad, to include emails providing classified military information. The Britain based Ahmed was one of the owners of Azzam Publications, an organization identified as providing financing and other resources to terrorists via the company’s Internet sites and email communications.
Authorities received further information on Abujihaad during the investigation and arrest of Derrick Shareef in Illinois in December 2006. Shareef was suspected of planning to launch an attack against holiday shoppers in a US mall using hand grenades. According to police, Abujihaad lived in Phoenix with Shareef in 2004, and was able to provide authorities with additional details about Abujihaad’s illicit activities.
Communication with Azzam Publications
According to authorities, the majority of emails between Azzam Publications and Abujihaad were sent between 2000 and 2001 while Abujihaad was stationed in the Middle East onboard the U.S.S. Benfold. Emails were sent from Abujihaad’s military email address, as well as his personal email account.
Abujihaad initially contacted Azzam Publications to purchase jihadist videos promoting violence in Chechnya and various other countries. Following this initial communication, Abujihaad began to discuss the content of such videos and describe the reactions of military personnel onboard the U.S.S. Benfold to briefings provided after the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000 (Terrorist Attack). In an email six months after the attack, Abujihaad praised the “martyrdom operation” and the mujahideen, and stated that the strike had caused significant “psychological anxiety” among military personnel. He claims that “as a Muslim station[ed] onboard a U.S. warship… he [could] truly see the effects of this psychological warfare taking a toll on junior and high ranking officers… the top brass and American officials were running around like headless chickens very afraid, wondering if there [was] a possible threat.” In response, Azzam Publications urged Abujihaad to “keep up… with the psychological warfare.”
Abujihaad also transmitted detailed information on the composition of a US Navy battle group, which included the U.S.S. Benfold, deployed to enforce sanctions against the Taliban and carry out other operations against al-Qaeda. In the document, Abujihaad describes each ship in the group, to include personnel, capabilities, and assigned missions. He details the planned movements for the battle group as it traveled from California to the Gulf region, and included a drawing of the ships’ formation when they were scheduled to pass through the Strait of Hormuz on April 21, 2001 at night. Furthermore, Abujihaad describes the battle group’s vulnerabilities to a terrorist attack, stating that the ships did not have adequate means to prevent an attack that used small weapons, such as rocket-propelled grenades.
According to an affidavit by an FBI Special Agent, navy officials have confirmed that the details concerning the composition and scheduled movements of the battle group provided by Abujihaad were accurate and would be useful for planning a terrorist attack. The case against Abujihaad highlights how lone individuals can interact with the broader online salafi jihadist community and gather the ideological, as well as, the religious validation support need to justify violence. Moreover, the Abujihaad case demonstrates how salafi jihadists can use the Internet to share intelligence and possibly plan attacks. As a result, intelligence and law enforcement officials must continue to monitor the Internet in order to disrupt terrorist cells and operations.