(Reuters) - Ali Charaf Damache, an al Qaeda suspect accused by the United States of conspiring to support terrorists, made an initial appearance in a federal court in Philadelphia on Friday following his extradition from Spain, the Justice Department said.
Damache was indicted in 2011 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and one count of attempted identity theft to facilitate an act of international terrorism.
Damache is believed to have conspired with Colleen LaRose, a Pennsylvania woman known as Jihad Jane, to recruit people to carry out terror attacks in Europe and Asia.
In 2011 LaRose pleaded guilty in a U.S. court of conspiring with Damache to try to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, whose depiction of the Prophet Mohammed with a dog’s body sparked Muslim protests.
The transfer of Damache to U.S. federal court represents the first time President Donald Trump’s administration has brought a foreign terror suspect to face trial in the United States.
In March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a radio interview that he would advise Trump to send newly captured terrorism suspects to prison in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba rather than to a civilian court to be prosecuted by the Justice Department.
Justice Department officials declined to say why the government had decided to bring Damache to the United States rather than to Guantanamo. A spokesman, Ian Prior, said only that the United States has “consistently used the extradition process to obtain indicted fugitives who are overseas, so that they can stand trial in our federal courts.”
David Cole, national legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said his organisation welcomed the announcement.
“Prosecuting terrorism cases in federal courts is the right thing to do,” he said in a statement. “We have long argued that our courts can handle terrorism cases, and they have a record of doing just that.”
Damache, an Algerian also known by the online username Black Flag, was arrested in 2010 in Ireland, where he had lived for a decade. He was released after an Irish judge rejected a U.S. request to extradite him and arrested again in Spain in 2015.
Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman