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American Morning

Interview with Mike Carter, David Heath

Aired July 25, 2002 - 08:07   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Federal authorities say they may have found yet another link between an American and al Qaeda, a Seattle man arrested earlier this week. Federal authorities followed James Ujaama to his aunt's home in Denver. On Monday, fearing that he was to flee the country, they moved in on the house with guns drawn and took him into custody.

According to authorities, Ujaama is a key link to Abu Hamza al- Masri, an Islamic cleric in London whose mosque is a suspected recruiting ground for al Qaeda. Federal sources tell the "Seattle Times" that one of Ujaama's assignments here was to scout out an Oregon ranch for a possible terrorist training facility.

Joining us now from the "Seattle Times" with more on the story they helped break, reporters Mike Carter and David Heath.

Good morning.

Thank you very much for getting up in the middle of the night to join us here.

We only have a 10-year-old picture of Mr. Ujaama. Who is this American, Mike, and why is the government interested in him?

MIKE CARTER, "THE SEATTLE TIMES": Well, he's a, I think he was born in Denver and raised in Seattle. He's a -- in the early '90s he was an entrepreneur. He worked with disadvantaged youth. He helped gang members find work, worked with drug addicts. His idea was that entrepreneurship could get them out of the problems they had and he was really quite a mover in the African-American community here.

ZAHN: So, David, by most accounts, this guy was doing legitimate activist work in the community. How did he get on the government's radar?

DAVID HEATH, "THE SEATTLE TIMES": He went to London and became a follower of a cleric there that you mentioned, a radical cleric named Abu Hamza, who has a mosque there that authorities believe is a recruiting ground for al Qaeda. Among other people who were there were Richard Reid, the terrorist who is accused of trying to use a shoe bomb to blow up an airplane and also Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker.

So Ujaama set up a Web site for this mosque and also he's affiliated with a Web site for a company called Sakino Security Service (ph), which was advertising terrorist training in the United States.

ZAHN: And, Mike, what does Abu Hamza say about this guy?

CARTER: Well, Abu Hamza admits that he knows James Ujaama. He knew him under the name of Bilal Achmed (ph). He acknowledges that Mr. Ujaama set up his Web site, but claims that he disappeared, oh, a year, a year and a half ago, which would have been just about the time of that, the incidents occurred down in Blie, Oregon.

ZAHN: And walk us through what happened in Blie, Oregon.

CARTER: Well, some time in late 1999 a group of militant Muslims, including Mr. Ujaama, from Seattle went to a small ranch down there and two individuals came over from the mosque in London and they were apparently, according to the federal government, sent there by Abu Hamza to scout out this piece of property as a jihad terrorist training camp in the United States.

ZAHN: Now, David, the other thing that you report caught the attention of government officials is this Web site that Ujaama set up himself, which was highly critical of U.S. policy. Give us a sense of what they found so incendiary on that site.

HEATH: Well, I'm not sure that the FBI is all that interested in that site. The site is, you know, it's called It's, you know, it's very critical of the United States and I think the only thing that's notable about that site is that it just sort of indicates that his views are very extreme. But it's really not part of the investigation.

ZAHN: But, David, he then called attention to himself by writing a letter to your newspaper, did he not, by accusing government officials of being on a witch hunt?

HEATH: Yes. He's been very strong in saying that this is all a witch hunt and he's, he actually wrote a letter to the competing newspaper and also he's given an interview to a newspaper in Denver. And, you know, he's, I think he told the "Rocky Mountain News" that he compared himself to Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King and he sees himself as a hero.

ZAHN: But, Mike, he's ignoring the fact, as you set out in your report, that he allegedly sold laptop computers to the Taliban, right?

CARTER: Well, I don't know whether he's ignoring the fact. I think the federal government alleges that he went over to Afghanistan some time before September 11 and did provide at least one laptop and probably more to the Taliban. At the time, I don't think that that was on anybody's radar screen.

It wasn't until the incidents in Blie, Oregon and the capture of an individual fighting with the Taliban and al Qaeda in Kandahar who had been taken to Afghanistan by James Ujaama, according to the federal government, that this really picked up as an investigation. ZAHN: I think both of you set out in this piece what the government has on him so far. But in closing, David, I'm just curious what you think this leads to. I mean obviously this guy argues that most Americans might find what he says abhorrent. But he's being persecuted because of his political beliefs.

HEATH: Yes, I think that what the government believes is that they have a case of somebody who, at the direction of Abu Hamza in London was trying to set up terrorist training camps for al Qaeda in this country and who also escorted someone to al Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan.

And so I think the real target of this investigation is Abu Hamza.

ZAHN: Well, we salute you for the depth of this reporting. I know it took you months and months to win the confidence of folks in the community that allowed you to break this story.

Mike Carter, David Heath, thank you very much for sharing some of that reporting with us this morning. Appreciate your time.

CARTER: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: And we'll let you guys go back to bed now. I don't think the guys ever got to go to bed last night.

Again, we appreciate your joining us on AM.

CARTER: Thank you. HEATH: Thanks.