Middle East studies in the News
Ex-FBI Leader Joins Saudi Terror Suspect's Defense [incl. John Esposito]
by Josh Gerstein
A former top-level FBI official has agreed to serve as an expert for the defense of a Saudi Arabian student accused of trying to assemble a bomb in Texas.
Danny Coulson, who helped oversee the FBI's investigation of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, is on a defense witness list filed last week by lawyers for Khalid Aldawsari. Aldawsari was arrested last February after he drew suspicion for trying to order chemicals that could be used to produce a bomb. He was indicted in March on one count of attempting to detonate a weapon of mass destruction.
"I do some defense work for different clients and was asked to consult on it by a law firm representing him," Coulson said in a brief interview Friday.
Aldawsari's case has drawn national attention in part because of indications that Aldawsari had some interest in former President George W. Bush's Dallas residence as well as American guards at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Investigators said Aldawsari sent himself an email labeled "Tyrant's House" and containing Bush's home address in Dallas. Investigators have not publicly linked Aldawsari to any particular terror group, but have said he frequently posted on online bulletin boards known for Islamic extremism.
A hearing on Aldawsari's mental competence to stand trial is set for next week. His trial is set for April 30.
The defense expert witness filing (posted here) indicates that "Coulson will/can testify to proper investigatory standards, procedures, and practices regarding terrorism investigations, including those involving weapons of mass destruction or potential weapons of mass destruction." However, Coulson said Friday he has not reviewed the evidence in the case, is not sure whether he will testify and has not yet formed an opinion about whether or not Aldawsari is guilty.
Coulson, a former FBI deputy assistant director who runs a private security and investigation firm in Fort Worth, said he has worked as an expert for the defense in other cases but has not previously testified as a defense witness at trial.
The defense filing also discloses a couple of other interesting aspects of the case. Last October, the FBI conducted a test explosion designed to simulate what Aldawsari could have done with the chemicals he was gathering, the notice says. The blast took place at the FBI compound in Quantico, Va., the filing says.
Aldawsari has also lined up another well-known defense expert, Georgetown Professor John Esposito. Esposito, a professor of international affairs and Islamic studies, is an expert on Islamic religion and culture. He declined to be interviewed for this post.
Aldawsari has assembled a high-powered defense team involving three of the most prominent criminal defense attorneys in the Dallas area. Now, the 21-year-old former Texas Tech student also has a high-powered roster of defense experts. How'd he manage that? Because of a gag order in the case, it's hard to know for certain, but Saudis accused of crimes abroad often have their legal expenses paid by the Saudi government.
Legal experts say the case could present interesting issues if it goes to trial. Because Aldawsari appears to have acted as a "lone wolf," and without conspiring with others, the government will be obliged to prove that he was in the midst of carrying out his planned attack and wasn't simply mulling it, experts said. The case could highlight the tension investigators face in a "lone wolf" case between preventing an attack and allowing a suspect to get far enough along in his plan to make a provable legal case.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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