A Muslim cleric turned terrorist leader – targeted for assassination by the U.S. government – is a Colorado State University graduate who honed his preaching skills in Colorado mosques.
Born in New Mexico, Anwar al-Awlaki arrived in Colorado in 1990 to study at CSU after spending more than 11 years in Yemen. He graduated in 1994, records show, with a degree in civil engineering.
He left little mark here — no achievements notable or infamous — and relatively few in Fort Collins or Denver remember him.
Those who did know al-Awlaki recall his emerging gift for oratory and persuasion. Some sensed the stirrings of radicalism in his speeches before he left in the mid-1990s, eventually returning to Yemen.
Skepticism about Zazi case gives way to hard questions
The evolving case of terrorism suspect Najibullah Zazi — the Afghan immigrant jailed in an alleged bombing plot — initially struck some in Colorado’s Islamic community as another example of FBI overenthusiasm. But as details trickled out, skepticism morphed into surprise and embarrassment, prompting leaders to ask searching questions about themselves, the community and how U.S. actions abroad could imperil Americans at home.
Once it became clear to the FBI that Najibullah Zazi posed a real threat, some of the police and intelligence reforms instituted after the 2001 terrorist attacks worked just as planned.
Wiretaps helped reveal what Zazi was saying. Travel records were mined to build a record of Zazi’s journeys.
The arrest of Zazi, and apparent disruption of an alleged bombing plot, “is a situation brought about by the changes in the way we do business since 9/11 — knocking down the walls (between law enforcement agencies) that allows us to work collaboratively here and overseas,” Denver FBI Special Agent in Charge James Davis said in an interview.
But it is still too early for anyone outside of law enforcement to gauge whether the techniques and cooperation that led to Zazi’s arrest make the United States considerably safer than on Sept. 11, 2001.
If, for example, Zazi was able to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan, move from his New York neighborhood to Colorado, collect bomb-making chemicals and test them in a hotel suite kitchen without drawing the attention of the CIA, FBI or other federal agencies, then there’s still much work to be done, according to intelligence experts.
“It’s impossible to say, based on the facts of the investigation that have been made public so far, what breakthroughs were involved in the investigation and what can be claimed as a success,” said Paul Pillar, the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, a 28-year CIA veteran who currently runs graduate security studies at Georgetown University.
Not knowing whether information about Zazi’s activities in Pakistan was developed by agents abroad or solely through police questioning in the United States, “there’s not a basis for drawing conclusions about pre- 9/11 vs. post- 9/11 differences,” Pillar said.
Zazi is charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Najibullah Zazi and his father, Mohammed, held in the investigation, are expected in court today.
FBI agents investigating what they describe as a plot to detonate homemade bombs in the United States released documents Sunday asserting that a Colorado airport-shuttle driver admitted to al-Qaeda training and had bomb-making notes in his laptop.Today, 24-year-old Najibullah Zazi and his father, Mohammed, 53, are scheduled to make initial appearances in federal court. They’ve been held in Denver County Jail since late Saturday, when FBI agents raided their apartment and arrested them on nonterrorism charges of making false statements.
Eight years of fighting terrorism has led to recalibration from Washington to Denver, where Pakistan’s ambassador Thursday delivered a pointed critique of U.S. tactics.
A lack of focus on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, failure to win popular support, impatience, and relying too much on military force such as the unmanned Predator drones have limited U.S. effectiveness, Pakistan Ambassador Husain Haqqani said in an interview here.
“If the United States cannot get the people on its side, then any number of bombings from high altitude are not going to change the ground reality,” Haqqani said.
“This is an ideological war, and it is an economic war. You have to create economic opportunities, because somebody who does not have a future is more likely to become a suicide terrorist than somebody who has a chance to earn a college degree.”
Denver Water gives few details on Dillon Dam decision
Denver water authorities citing unspecified security concerns suddenly close a crucial dam road in booming Summit County. Residents erupt in protest. The Denver water authorities concede there’s no immediate threat, saying they based their move on a new vulnerability analysis by a federal security agency they could not name. Are jihadists able and likely to target a relatively unknown mountain dam?
Privacy advocates worry that officers’ snooping will entangle innocent people.
Hundreds of police, firefighters, paramedics and even utility workers have been trained and recently dispatched as “Terrorism Liaison Officers in Colorado and a handful of other statres to hunt for “suspicious activity” – and are reporting their findings into secret government databases. U.S. intelligence and homeland security officials say they support the widening use of TLOs – state-run under federal agreements – as part of a necessary integrated network for preventing attacks. But the vague nature of TLOs’ mission and their focus on reporting both legal and illegal activity has generated objections from privacy advocates and civil libertarians.
Tough rules delay cases Anti-terrorism efforts require stricter proof of persecution, including documents that can “reasonably” be obtained.
Jailed and tortured in Ethiopia, Samuel Tafesa made it to Mexico,
then waded across the Rio Grande into the United States.
Now in Denver, he’s begging for asylum protection, claiming that
Ethiopian police beat him with sticks on the bottoms of his feet
and held his head under water, trying to coerce information about
fellow members of an opposition political party.
“I’m afraid to go back to Ethiopia,” he said. “If I go back,
I’ll be killed.”
For Tafesa and tens of thousands of other asylum-seekers, sanctuary
in America has become harder to attain. U.S. officials are
subjecting them to increasingly rigorous scrutiny, government
officials and legal experts say.
New anti-terrorism measures require stricter proof of persecution,
including documents that can “reasonably” be obtained.
Tafesa, 22, called back to Ethiopia repeatedly, asking his mother
to get what she can for his lawyer, Michael Litman.
Today’s higher standard of proof makes cases more complex and
prolongs them, with government attorneys sending documents to a
Homeland Security forensics lab for testing.
“We have a tradition, but we want to make sure people seeking
(asylum) have a rightful entitlement,” said Mike Everitt, a unit
chief in the lab near Washington, D.C.
The new measures are contributing to a record immigration-court
backlog – 3,370 cases pending in Denver, a third involving asylum,
federal statistics show. That’s double Denver’s pending caseload
six years ago.
Department of Justice officials said 166,200 cases are pending in
immigration courts nationwide, including 33,194 in Los Angeles,
8,546 in Chicago and 9,455 in Orlando, Fla. In 2000, 125,764 cases
Dana Marks, a sitting judge in California and president of the
National Association of Immigration Judges, said dozens more judges
The system is “unbelievably overburdened,” squeezing judges’
ability to make life-or-death decisions, Marks said.
“Why are we treating the asylum system this way? If we pride
ourselves in America for treating refugees right, why aren’t we
providing resources to ensure they get prompt and fair treatment?”
Now, fewer people are applying for asylum, though the reasons for
the drop aren’t clear.
Some 54,452 applications were received last year in immigration
courts, down from 74,627 in 2002 and 84,904 in 1997, records show.
Adjudicators for the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration
Services, who often see asylum-seekers first, received 36,502
applications last year, down from 65,201 in 2002 and 149,000 in
1995, according to a senior USCIS official who spoke on condition
of anonymity, in accordance with agency policy.
In Denver, about one in three cases handled is approved. Asylum
experts say it’s too early to gauge whether the new standards for
proof will change that percentage.
USCIS adjudicators approved 27 percent of cases they handled this
year, down from 43 percent in 2001, according to the senior
official. In immigration courts, stats show 23 percent of
applications processed last year were approved, up from 20 percent
Previously, asylum-seekers often were accepted solely on the basis
of government “country condition” reports and testimony that
judges found to be credible and persuasive.
Today’s higher standards requiring documentation that could
“reasonably” be obtained “change the burden of proof,” the
official said. But “there’s still the allowance” that an
applicant who can’t obtain documents can win asylum if deemed
credible, he said.
“Out of reach for many”
One problem caused by the more frequent demand for documents is
that hiring document and medical experts raises legal costs, said
Regina Germain, legal director at the Rocky Mountain Survivors
Center and author of a legal text on asylum law.
“I fear recent changes … could put asylum out of reach for many
people who flee with little more than the clothes on their backs,”
In Tafesa’s case, an Addis Ababa police document his mother sent
says he was imprisoned for 17 days in 2005 for being a member of
the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party. The document accuses
him of involvement in “illegal demonstrations” and “promoting
unhealthy propaganda and causing conflict of people against
It says he was released from prison on the condition he cease all
political activity and check in weekly, which he failed to do. It
warns: “The police department will track you and your family
The government is vetting those documents. His case is scheduled
for a hearing in May.
Meantime, he works under a temporary permit, washing rental cars at
Denver International Airport for $8.85 an hour that he uses mostly
for legal fees.
His father and brother in Ethiopia have gone missing, and his
6-year-old son, Mathais, is bewildered, Tafesa said before work
“He asks me: ‘Where are you?’ I tell him I’ll be there one day,”
Tafesa said. “What can I do?”
Over the next three weeks, the government plans to bring more than
1,400 refugees from Iraq to Denver and other U.S. cities – opening
doors that have been closed since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
By next year, the number of Iraqi refugees may swell to 12,000,
according to officials at the U.S. Departments of State and
Between 1992 and 2002, the U.S. accepted an average of 2,800 Iraqi
refugees a year. Since then, the annual average has dropped to
The accelerated flow is in response to pressure to ease a worsening
humanitarian crisis, State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper
“We want to take care of the people who have helped us, especially
those who might feel under threat,” Cooper said.
United Nations officials last week estimated one in seven Iraqis
have left their homes.
More than 2 million have made it to neighboring countries – the
largest Middle East displacement since the 1948 creation of
The first refugees set to arrive in Denver are Nazar Al Taei, his
wife and their three children. They are scheduled to fly from
Al Taei worked as a translator for the American military. His legs
were injured, leaving him with nerve problems, resettlement-agency
documents show. Fearing for their lives, the family fled to
Before the war in Iraq, Al Taei and his wife worked as
Others slated for resettlement in Denver include a woman with
breast cancer who hasn’t seen her husband since last year and
another who worked as an interpreter and secretary and is suffering
from serious depression and anxiety, the documents show.
An apartment off Colorado Boulevard has been furnished and stocked
for the Al Taei family. Local school officials await their
children, said Ferdi Mevlani, director of Ecumenical Refugee and
This Denver group is working on contract to guide about a dozen
Iraqi newcomers this month.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands more Iraqis clamor to get out,
according to U.N. and government officials.
“My family now, they are on the target,” said Omar Al Rahmani,
47, a Baghdad city councilman who translated for U.S. forces and
visited Denver twice on intergovernmental exchanges.
“My daughter’s school is 150 meters from my home. Even that is too
far,” Al Rahmani said in a telephone interview Friday.
“I don’t feel she’s safe, even though the school has four
guards,” Al Rahmani said. “I just want my family to be out in a
secure place. That’s all I want.”
For the U.S., accepting Iraqi refugees presents the major challenge
of screening out possible terrorists, said Paul Rosenzweig, deputy
assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security.
The Bush administration’s plan is to admit 10,000 to 12,000 Iraqis
a year, starting next year, Rosenzweig said.
“We’re doing enhanced background and biometric checks on people
coming out of Iraq to do the best we can to be sure those who are
admitted are deserving refugees, while at the same time screening
out those who might pose problems to us because of connections to
al- Qaeda in Iraq or other terrorist organizations,” he said.
By the end of this month, total Iraqi arrivals for 2007 should
reach 2,000, said Todd Pierce, spokesman for the State Department’s
In the first seven months of 2007, some 190 Iraqi refugees were
United Nations High Commission for Refugees officials are
negotiating with the U.S. to accept as many of the 2 million Iraqi
refugees as possible, U.N. spokeswoman Wendy Young said.
The commission asked U.S. officials to admit 10,110 U.N.- screened
Iraqis this year – nearly three times the 3,586 Iraqis referred to
all other countries.
The fleeing Iraqis all managed to escape to neighboring countries
such as Jordan, where authorities last week closed their borders
because they are swamped with refugees.
“We rely on the United States as a key partner in refugee
resettlement,” Young said.
Inside Iraq, an estimated 2.2 million more uprooted Iraqis face
dwindling options for escape. U.N. officials say 50,000 a month are
fleeing their homes.
Some in Congress still oppose accepting any Iraqi refugees.
“I don’t trust the (government) to vet them correctly,” said U.S.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.
Others, like U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., are pushing to help
more Iraqis out of a volatile situation.
“We’ve created it,” Perlmutter said. ” It’s a tragic situation.
And I don’t think we’ve come to grips with it.”
Perlmutter said he plans to introduce a bill that would admit up to
2,000 Iraqis who worked for U.S. diplomats and contractors in
“People who have assisted the United States should be welcome here
and be able to avoid persecution in Iraq, if that’s what they
choose,” he said.
Denver is seen as an ideal resettlement site because it has robust
agencies to help refugees from around the world, a healthy economy
and the capacity to treat torture victims, said Paul Stein,
coordinator of Colorado’s state refugee program and chairman of a
national advisory panel.
“By not making an effort to resettle more Iraqis, you’d definitely
feed into that notion of hypocrisy and double standards,” Stein
About 41,000 refugees were admitted to the U.S. last year among an
estimated 1.8 million legal and illegal immigrants.
Refugees, who are deemed unable to return safely to their home
countries, receive government assistance for 90 days.
Some Colorado leaders advocate resettling many more from Iraq.
“We’re directly affected by what’s happening in Iraq and the rest
of the world. … I’d like to see what tangible we can do to help
fulfill our moral obligations,” said state Rep. Joe Rice, who
served as a civil-affairs soldier in Iraq and hears regularly from
Iraqis wanting out.
But Rice said he’s also deeply conflicted. Many of those fleeing
Iraq “are the very people who are needed to try to stabilize
things, to build a new society there,” he said.
“If all the good people leave, who’s left to build a new
Next entries »
A federal judge Wednesday declared the end of the government’s
four-year case against a Denver
Pakistani-American family once targeted by the FBI as terrorists.
Family members whose lives were turned upside down simply wept.
“We’ve lost everything,” longtime Colorado restaurateur Abdul
Chief U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock accepted plea deals with
federal prosecutors who dropped and reduced immigration charges
they pursued after their terrorism case fizzled against Qayyum, his
daughter Saima Saima, wife Chris Warren and nephew Irfan Kamran.
Now only Haroon Rashid, Saima’s husband, is jailed. Federal
prosecutors dropped all charges against him too. But Rashid, jailed
for more than two years, faces deportation after a misdemeanor
assault on a gang member who hassled his family.
A federal appeals court on Nov. 20 temporarily blocked Rashid’s
deportation pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
FBI agents targeted this family of naturalized U.S. citizens from
Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands based on secret evidence after
the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Then-U.S. Attorney General
John Ashcroft trumpeted the case as aggressive action against
“When the attorney general of the United States declares your
family terrorists,” the result is damage “far beyond anything
this court can do,” defense attorney Ray Moore told Babcock during
one of two emotional hearings Wednesday.
The family suffered financially as their restaurant in Castle Rock
closed. Children faced teasing; mothers grew depressed.
Babcock acknowledged that the long, hard case was trying on
everyone involved. “Sometimes these things take too long. … This
is one of those cases where it just took time to get it right.”
The immigration charges FBI agents pursued, after allegations of
links to al-Qaeda evaporated in 2004, involved statements family
members made about a relative to get him a visa to enter the U.S.
In multiple plea deals made final Wednesday, Qayyum pleaded guilty
to one charge of making a false statement to a federal agent. He
received a sentence of one year’s probation.
Kamran, a father of four, pleaded guilty to a petty offense after
prosecutors dropped two felony charges. All charges against Warren
and Saima were dropped.
“The most important thing that hurt me emotionally was when they
pointed guns at my kid and he was shivering” during a raid, Kamran
said. “(Yet) I still haven’t changed my mind about this country,”
he said. “I’m still positive. There are still a lot of people with
Federal prosecutors defended their actions.
“I don’t know if there was any excess in this case. It was done
just like any other case would be,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David
Now defense attorneys say they’re trying to make sure family
members’ names aren’t on federal terrorist watch lists.