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Terror trial lawyers spar over key witness

Federal prosecutors have requested that the history of a key witness not be allowed in a trial of a Yemeni man accused of giving millions of dollars to terrorist.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Federal prosecutors Monday asked a judge to bar any mention of an FBI informant’s troubled history during the trial next month of a Yemeni sheik accused of funneling millions of dollars to terrorists.

Prosecutors said in court papers they may try Sheik Mohammed Ali Hasan al-Moayad without the testimony of Mohamed Alanssi, who set himself on fire in front of the White House last month in a suicide attempt motivated by what he called his mistreatment by the government.

The incident exposed Alanssi as the central informant in the case and unveiled his history of alleged untruths and financial problems. Defense attorneys said it undermined Alanssi’s credibility and called his mental stability into question.

With the case set for trial next month, prosecutors said in papers filed in federal court in Brooklyn that they would not need to call Alanssi as a witness. Instead, they said, they could use the testimony of a German agent to authenticate secret recordings of conversations involving the informant, al-Moayad and an undercover American agent.

No sideshow
As a result, U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. should bar the defense from independently introducing evidence of Alanssi’s “criminal history, bad character or conduct,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Moore wrote.

“The defendants should not be able to create a sideshow about (Alanssi’s) credibility,” she wrote.

Prosecutors could still call Alanssi even if the judge rules in their favor.

Al-Moayad’s attorney said Alanssi is the linchpin of the government’s case and the prosecutor’s attempt to keep his credibility unquestioned should be rejected.

“I think his veracity and background is an issue in the case, even if he doesn’t testify,” attorney Howard Jacobs said.

Secret recording equipment captured al-Moayad allegedly saying he had personally delivered $20 million to Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In suicide notes and interviews made public after he burned himself, Alanssi claimed the FBI promised him wealth and permanent U.S. residency in exchange for his cooperation. He told The Washington Post that he was afraid the government might “put me in jail and might torture me inside the jail” if he stopped cooperating.

The government has not commented on Alanssi’s mistreatment accusations.