Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Defense Lawyers in Overseas Terror Funding Case Hope to Prove St. Louis Man Was 'Lawful Combatant'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Defense Lawyers in Overseas Terror Funding Case Hope to Prove St. Louis Man Was 'Lawful Combatant'

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS * Defense lawyers for five people accused of helping support terrorist organizations overseas are seeking a delay in the case in hopes that they can prove that a former St. Louis County resident they're accused of helping was a "lawful combatant" in Syria not a member of a terrorist group.

The defense motion is not due until June 1, but in a court hearing March 30, defense lawyers said they were seeking former comrades of Abdullah Ramo Pazara, who lived in St. Louis County before leaving to fight and die in Syria.

Pazara arrived in Syria in July 2013, the indictment says, and is believed to have risen to become a deputy to a top commander of Islamic State at the time of his death in September 2014. He was 38.

In February 2015, three current or former St. Louis County residents Ramiz Zijad Hodzic; his wife, Sedina Unkic Hodzic; and Armin Harcevic and three others were indicted on charges of conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists and with providing material support to terrorists.

Prosecutors say the group supplied money and military equipment to terrorist fighters overseas, including Islamic State and al-Qaida in Iraq, and also supported fighters' families.

Ramiz Hodzic and Nihad Rosic, of New York, also were charged with conspiring to kill and maim persons in a foreign country. Jasminka Ramic, formerly of Rockford, Ill., pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in September 2015 and is serving a three-year prison term.

Defense lawyer JoAnn Trog, who represents Rosic, told U.S. Magistrate Judge David Noce Thursday that her colleagues had hired an expert witness and were "actively" and "very diligently" attempting to contact former fighters. She said they expected to be able to produce specific facts about Pazara's battles and allegiances.

Trog did say that it is the first time the issue would be addressed in eastern Missouri.

Charles Swift, one of the lawyers representing Harcevic, said in a hearing this year that an investigation in Syria and Bosnia had already begun, and that he had spent three weeks in Turkey.

"Turkey is a very challenging environment to work in right now," he cautioned.

Lawyers declined to comment in detail after the hearing or did not return messages seeking comment, so their exact argument is not clear.

They may argue that Pazara was aligned with groups that were not designated terrorist organizations at the time the defendants were sending supplies.

In February 2016, a federal judge in Minneapolis rejected an argument by lawyers for five men accused of plotting to go fight for Islamic State. Among their arguments was the lawful combatant issue.

U.S. District Judge Michael J. Davis wrote: "The Indictment makes clear that defendants are charged with conspiring with ISIL, a designated foreign terrorist organization, to commit murder. As a result, defendants are being prosecuted only for unlawful acts, not acts that may fall within combatant immunity. …

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