Feds tie Hawash to Portland 6
- Jim Redden
- Portland Tribune - News
• Jailed Intel engineer charged with conspiring to aid terrorists; FBI hints of more arrests
The so-called Portland Six is now up to seven Ñ and the number of Portland Muslims facing terrorism charges may go even higher, according to the Oregon FBI's Charles Mathews.
Former Intel Corp. software engineer Maher Mofied 'Mike' Hawash was charged Monday with three counts of aiding terrorists. During a hearing before U.S. District Judge Robert Jones, the federal government accused Hawash of conspiring with six already-indicted Portlanders to support the al-Qaida terrorist organization and former Taliban government of Afghanistan.
According to a 41-page affidavit prepared by the Portland FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, Hawash traveled to China with five other Portland residents in October 2001 in an unsuccessful effort to reach Afghanistan.
Although Mathews would not discuss details of the case Monday, he said investigators believe other Portlanders may have taken part in the trip, too.
'It is an ongoing investigation,' said Mathews, who is special agent in charge of the Oregon FBI office.
Hawash's attorney, Stephen Houze, was not available for comment Monday.
Hawash's supporters said Monday that they will continue to rally on his behalf, in spite of the newly released evidence.
'We continue to believe in his innocence,' said Steven McGeady, a former Intel vice president. 'The evidence (in the affidavit) seems very weak. It looks like guilt by association.'
Hawash was first arrested on a federal material witness warrant March 20 Ñ the day the war with Iraq started. Without going into detail, Mathews suggested the timing was not a coincidence.
'If the government suspected someone might do something when the war started and they had a reason to take that person into custody, nobody should be surprised if that happened,' Mathews said.
'We charged him as soon as we got enough evidence to know that we would be able to convict him,' he said.
The other five Portlanders who attempted to travel to Afghanistan are: Jeffrey Leon Battle, Patrice Lumumba Ford, Ahmed Ibrahim Bilal, Muhammad Ibrahim Bilal and Habis Abdulla Al Saoub.
The sixth defendant, Battle's wife, October Martinique Lewis, allegedly stayed home and wired money to some of the others to support their mission. Al Saoub remains a fugitive; the others are still in custody awaiting trial.
Hawash, 38, is being held at Sheridan Federal Prison as a material witness in the investigation. Mathews said Hawash was scheduled to be arrested on the new charges by the FBI and appear before Jones this morning.
Mathews said that information against Hawash will be presented to a federal grand jury later this week, and that Hawash could be indicted shortly after that. Hawash was scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. today before Judge Jones. Hawash supporters said they would rally at the federal courthouse.
Men's travel linked
The affidavit alleges that Hawash and the others conspired to travel to Afghanistan after the Bush administration announced plans to overthrow the Taliban government in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
The affidavit says Hawash flew out of Seattle on Oct. 24, 2001, traveling through Tokyo to Hong Kong. Information obtained by the FBI indicates he entered China through Guangzhou on Oct. 27.
The affidavit claims that Hawash's trip roughly corresponded to the trips taken by the other five Portland men. Copies of hotel registration records obtained by the FBI show Hawash stayed with most or all of them at three Chinese hotels: the Shan Cheng Hotel in †rŸmqi, the Chini Bagh Guest House in Kashgar and the Jing Hua Hotel in Beijing.
Hawash returned to Seattle on Nov. 18; Battle, Ford and Muhammad Bilal also returned around that time.
Some of the information in the affidavit came from Ron Gluckman, a freelance travel writer who told the FBI he met seven American Muslims in Kashgar who identified themselves as 'a fighting force.' According to the affidavit, he identified Battle, Ford and Muhammad Bilal as part of the group. Gluckman was not able to identify Hawash from a photo, however; Gluckman's unidentified companion also was not able to identify him.
Name surfaces elsewhere
Hawash first may have come to the attention of the FBI on Oct. 20, 2001, when, according to the affidavit, a neighbor called the Portland FBI to say that his behavior had changed after the terrorist attacks.
Among other things, the neighbor said Hawash was distancing himself from his neighbors, was growing a beard, had changed from 'Western' to 'Eastern' clothing, had begun attending a mosque on a regular basis and was being visited by 'other Middle Eastern males.'
The affidavit said the task force began investigating Hawash seven months ago, if not earlier. The task force served a federal search warrant on Ford's residence Oct. 4, 2002, recovering, among other things, a piece of paper containing the notation 'Maher Ñ 73 owe' and the names of several of the other alleged conspirators. A business card also was recovered with Hawash's name and home telephone number written on the back.
Hawash's name and home phone number also were found that day when search warrants were served at the home shared by Lewis and Battle, and at the Detroit home of Muhammad Bilal's sister, where Muhammad Bilal was staying.
Battle, Ford, Lewis and Ahmed Bilal were arrested Oct. 5, 2002. The same day, a second Hawash neighbor called the FBI to say that Maher and Hawash's wife, Lisa, were close friends of Ahmed Bilal and Al Saoub. At least two unidentified witnesses say Hawash helped Ahmed Bilal set up a landscaping business in the first half of 2001.
Friends, co-workers rally
Hawash was arrested March 20 by task force members in the parking lot of Intel where he was a contract worker. At that time, search warrants also were executed on Hawash's Hillsboro house, Intel work space and two automobiles registered to him and his wife.
According to the affidavit, Lisa Hawash told task force representatives that her husband had traveled to China in October 2001 to look for computer business. Home and business telephone records show no calls to or from China before the trip.
In addition, Youqing Ma, Chinese international trade manager for the Oregon Economic & Community Development Department, told the task force that Hawash had never talked to her. She said individuals and firms seeking to do business in China ordinarily contact her.
The arrest sparked an international controversy.
After his arrest, some of Hawash's friends and co-workers launched a media campaign to free him and clear his name. They staged protests, issued news releases and started a Web site deploring the secrecy of the arrest and subsequent detention.
They raised more than $15,000 for legal fees and reached more than 70,000 people through the Web site.
Hawash was born in the West Bank city of Nablus and raised in Kuwait. His first language is Arabic. His family was exiled from Nablus but returned to live there in the 1990s, amid heavy conflict between the Israeli army and Palestinian fighters. He carried a Jordanian passport before becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1990.
Hawash came to the United States in 1984 and attended the University of Texas at Arlington, where he earned undergraduate and master's degrees in engineering. He was hired by Compaq Corp. in 1989 and stayed with that firm until 1992, when he moved to Portland to work for Intel. Hawash and his wife were married in 1995 and have three children.
He worked for Intel from 1992 until 2001, as part of a multimedia team under McGeady that worked to improve video performance of computers.
Friends recall that Hawash traveled fairly frequently to the Middle East, including a pilgrimage to Mecca. He worked at Intel's Israel plant from 1994 to 1996. He returned to Nablus to visit his family several times before and after his work stint in Israel. His mother still lives in Nablus.
'There's lots of evidence regarding the beliefs of the other defendants,' McGeady said. 'But there's no evidence that's been presented about Mike that makes me change my mind.'