June 3, 2008 -- An Ohio man who is an admitted member of al Qaeda has pleaded guilty to a federal terrorism charge and could spend 20 years in prison for the crime.
Christopher Paul, also known by several other aliases including Abdul Malek, entered a guilty plea to one count of "conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, namely explosives to be used as bombs" against U.S. citizens and property outside the United States, the plea agreement states.
Paul's involvement in terrorist activities reaches back almost 20 years, and includes overseas terror training, plots against Americans in the United States and abroad, and communication with terror cells around the world, according to his admissions in the statement of facts filed along with his plea.
He provided material support for terrorist by "committing jihad" -- attending training camps and providing equipment to be used as part of a conspiracy to kill or seriously injure people, the document says.
The statement of facts details Paul's involvement with terrorist activities, starting with trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the early 1990s. At that time, al Qaeda recruited individuals for operations and trained thousands of mujahedeen in those countries.
When he arrived in Pakistan, Paul "stayed at the Beit Ul Ansar guest house, located in Peshawar, Pakistan." The facility was associated with al Qaeda, the document adds.
From there, Paul traveled to Afghanistan to train at a camp run by the terror group. The statement of facts notes that "The training included, but was not limited to, map reading, climbing, use of assault rifles, grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, small unit tactics, and hand-to-hand combat."
Once Paul completed his introductory al Qaeda training, he moved to the Beit ur Salam guest house, "which was exclusively for al Qaeda members." At that point, Paul received advanced training, including instruction on "explosives and explosive devices." Upon completion, he joined the mujahedeen fight in Afghanistan.
"After fighting in Afghanistan, defendant returned to the United States for a period and began instructing individuals in martial arts at a mosque in Columbus, Ohio," the statement of facts says. Paul "also began recruiting and associating with individuals with jihadist intentions in order to establish a jihadist group in Columbus, Ohio."
Paul's activities continued, as he traveled in the Balkan region from 1993 to 1995 to participate in the wars in which Serbia was engaged in ethnic cleansing against Muslim populations in the former Yugoslavia. There, he established more contacts with Islamic fundamentalists and created "a master list of contact numbers for senior al Qaeda leadership and other radical Islamic fundamentalists and operatives world-wide," the statement says. The list also included information on bombs and detonators.
At the time of his indictment last year, investigators also said they discovered that Paul stored some materials at his own residence and stashed books on guerilla warfare and weapons-making, including a note on the al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan, at his father's house.
The 9/11 commission determined that at least seven of the 19 9/11 hijackers received some of their training at the camp.
The contact list, and a fax Paul received in Ohio from al Qaeda members in Europe asking Paul to find a "true group and place to make jihad," are in the possession of the FBI's Columbus Joint Terrorism Task Force, the court documents note.
In 1999 and 2000, Paul's phone records show he repeatedly called an unnamed "radical Islamic fundamentalist co-conspirator in Europe" who was arrested and convicted of a terror conspiracy.
Additionally, in 1999, Paul traveled to Germany to meet with a cell and train them in bomb-making so they could "construct bombs, car bombs, and similar devices to be used against Americans while they vacationed at foreign tourist resorts" and also on U.S. embassies and military installations, the statement of facts says.
Upon his return to Ohio, Paul purchased computer equipment, a laser range-finder and night vision gear to be used by jihadists. He also wired $1,760 to the German terror cell, the statement says.
Abdi, a Somali national, was charged with planning to blow up a Columbus-area shopping mall. He pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists last year, and a judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison in November.
A naturalized U.S. citizen born in the Kashmir region, Faris had been working as a truck driver in Columbus before he pleaded guilty in 2003 to plotting to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge. That year, a judge sentenced him to 20 years imprisonment. He later became a government informant in the Abdi case.
Officials have said the three men conducted training in Burr Oak State Park in southeast Ohio. The statement of facts says that state park records show Paul and others stayed at the park, and that witnesses observed Paul and members of the Columbus cell "replicating terrorist training" that he had received overseas.
The charge Paul pleaded guilty to carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, but the agreement notes that both parties deemed 20 years imprisonment as "appropriate." A federal judge will formally sentence Paul later this year.