Alleged Al Qaeda Sleeper Agent in U.S. Pleads Guilty

The man known for nearly six years as the last "enemy combatant" held on U.S. soil has pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism.

Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, dubbed an "enemy combatant" by the Bush administration, entered his plea Thursday before a U.S. district judge in Peoria, Ill. He admitted to one count of conspiring to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization. Sentencing is set for July 30.

Al-Marri was held without charges at the U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., from 2003 until a federal grand jury indicted him in February.

The indictment on two counts of allegedly providing material support to al Qaeda paved the way for his release from military custody into the U.S. criminal justice system.

Al-Marri's transfer from military custody marked a dramatic shift from the Bush administration's stance that the United States could indefinitely detain terror suspects caught here without filing charges. Additionally, the Obama administration has dropped the use of the term "enemy combatant" to describe al-Marri and other terror suspects.

The indictment "shows our resolve to protect the American people and prosecute alleged terrorists to the full extent of the law," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement at the time of al-Marri's indictment.

"In this administration," he continued, "we will hold accountable anyone who attempts to do harm to Americans, and we will do so in a manner consistent with our values."

The two-page indictment lacks specific details of al-Marri's alleged support to al Qaeda, but the Justice Department has said that it intends to introduce more evidence and prove its case at trial.

Maintains Innocence

One day before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, al-Marri and his family legally entered the United States so he could begin a master's degree program at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. He received a bachelor's degree from the same school in 1991.

The U.S. government alleged that he repeatedly attempted to contact an al Qaeda leader suspected of financing the Sept. 11 attacks as part of his alleged involvement as a "sleeper agent," lying in wait to take part in a suspected second-wave attack.

Al-Marri has maintained that he is innocent.

"He understands the charges against him," and looked forward to the move to civilian custody, Andy Savage, his criminal defense attorney, told ABC News earlier this year. "He's looking forward to addressing the allegations against him."

Al-Marri: 'Enemy Combatant' Ringleader?

At the time of al-Marri's arrest, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft compared him to Mohammed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the group of hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.

The government's argument at the time was that the priority was to get information out of al-Marri about potential upcoming terrorist plots, as opposed to trying him for alleged crimes.

Al-Marri, who is a dual citizen of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, has been in U.S. custody since his December 2001 arrest and was transferred to the U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., in 2003, after President Bush declared him an enemy combatant.

Bush signed an executive order declaring that al-Marri was "closely associated" with al Qaeda and had "engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and warlike acts."

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