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Al-Qaida Suspect Appears In Federal Court In Pennsylvania

Ali Charaf Damache, known as "Black Flag," arrives at the courthouse in Waterford, Ireland, in 2010. Damache appeared in a Philadelphia federal courtroom Friday on terrorism-related charges.
Peter Morrison

An al-Qaida-linked suspect who prosecutors say conspired to murder a Swedish cartoonist has been charged in federal court in Philadelphia, despite the Trump administration's vow that alleged terrorists would be tried in military courts.

Prosecutors say Ali Charaf Damache, 52, an Algerian-born Irish citizen also known as "Black Flag," was allegedly part of an Ireland-based cell that included Colleen R. LaRose, a Pennsylvania woman known as "Jihad Jane." LaRose pled guilty in a U.S. court in 2011 to conspiracy and terrorism-related crimes. She is serving a 10-year sentence.

Friday's court appearance for Damache, who is believed to be an al-Qaida recruiter, was announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente and Acting U.S. Attorney Louis D. Lappen of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Boente and Lappen said Damache was being charged with conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists.

Damache had been fighting extradition from Spain, where he was arrested in 2015 at the request of U.S. officials. He was first arrested in Ireland in 2010, but later released. Prosecutors say Damache and his co-conspirators were involved in a foiled plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist who had published a derogatory drawing of the Prophet Muhammad.

The New York Times writes that Damache appeared in federal court on Friday, where he waived his right to a swift arraignment. He said he had no cash or assets and that he needs his "legal representative that has been recommended by the Irish ambassador."

Damache is the first foreign terrorism suspect brought to the U.S. since the start of the Trump administration six months ago.

As NPR's David Welna reported days after the November election, Trump vowed of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to "load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we're gonna load it up."

And, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited the detention facility on July 7. "It is important for the Department of Justice to have an up-to-date understanding of current operations," a DOJ spokesman said in a statement at the time. "The purpose of the trip is to gain that understanding by meeting with the people on the ground who are leading our government-wide efforts at GTMO."

According to a Times story from 2013:

"Mr. Damache arrived in Ireland in 2000 and married an Irish woman in 2002. The relationship ended in 2008 and he then married an American citizen, Jamie Paulin Ramirez. Ms. Ramirez has pleaded guilty in the United States to charges of conspiring with Colleen LaRose, also known as Jihad Jane, to support and train terrorists."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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