An Algerian born Irish citizen accused by the United States of conspiring to support terrorists made an initial appearance in a federal court in Philadelphia on Friday following his extradition from Spain, the US justice department has said.
Ali Charaf Damache, with a last address at High Street, Waterford, was indicted in 2011 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and one count of attempted identity theft to facilitate an act of international terrorism.
Damache is accused of conspiring with Colleen LaRose, a Pennsylvania woman known as Jihad Jane, to recruit people to carry out terror attacks in Europe and Asia.
In 2011 LaRose pleaded guilty in a US court of conspiring with Damache to try to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, whose depiction of the Prophet Mohammed with a dog's body sparked Muslim protests.
Damache (51), also known by the online username Black Flag, was arrested in 2010 in Ireland, where he had lived for a decade.
He was released after a High Court judge rejected a US request to extradite him and arrested again in Spain in 2015.
The transfer of Damache to US federal court represents the first time President Donald Trump’s administration has brought a foreign terror suspect to face trial in the United States.
In March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a radio interview that he would advise Mr Trump to send newly captured terrorism suspects to prison in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba rather than to a civilian court to be prosecuted by the justice department.
Justice department officials declined to say why the government had decided to bring Damache to the US rather than to Guantanamo. A spokesman, Ian Prior, said only that the United States has “consistently used the extradition process to obtain indicted fugitives who are overseas, so that they can stand trial in our federal courts.”
David Cole, national legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said his organisation welcomed the announcement.
“Prosecuting terrorism cases in federal courts is the right thing to do,” he said in a statement. “We have long argued that our courts can handle terrorism cases, and they have a record of doing just that.”
Damache, with a last address at High Street, Waterford, had initially pleaded not guilty at Waterford Circuit Criminal Court to sending a menacing phone call to US Muslim activist Majed Moughni in January 2010 but pleaded guilty to the charge on day six of his trial.
He was subsequently sentenced to four years imprisonment with the final 12 months suspended by Judge Donagh McDonagh.
Minutes after he had pleaded guilty to the charge, he was arrested in Waterford Courthouse by gardaí on foot of a High Court warrant.
High Court case
Following lengthy extradition proceedings, the High Court refused in May 2015 to order his surrender to US authorities.
In refusing to order Mr Damache’s surrender, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, said there were “substantial grounds for believing that Mr Damache will be at real risk of being subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment if extradited to the USA.”
If convicted in the US, Damache could face up to 45 years in jail, a term his lawyers say would be “a lot more” than could be imposed here in Ireland.
The Attorney General appealed the High Court’s refusal to surrender Damache. Before the case came before the Court of Appeal, Damache was arrested in Barcelona on foot of an international alert. He had since been held in Spain pending his extradition to the US.
- Additional reporting Reuters