Five Americans, including one trained by the U.S. Army, have been charged with conspiring to wage war against the United States by allegedly trying to travel to Afghanistan after last year's terrorist attacks and join forces with al-Qaida.
The arrests were announced on a day when a federal judge in Virginia sentenced a tearful John Walker Lindh to 20 years in prison for aiding the Taleban in Afghanistan.
Just hours before John Walker Lindh was sentenced, Attorney General John Ashcroft told the nation about another development: six people, including a discharged U.S. Army reservist, had been charged with attempting to conspire with a terrorist group in what he calls a jihad or holy war against the United States.
"Earlier today, agents of the Portland (Oregon) and Detroit (Michigan) joint terrorism task forces arrested suspected terrorist cell members charged with engaging in a conspiracy to join al-Qaida and to join Taleban forces fighting the United States and allied soldiers in Afghanistan," he said.
Authorities would say little about how the arrests were made, or whether they had uncovered an actual plot to attack America or its interests. Everyone charged could face life in prison if convicted.
According to a grand jury indictment, one of the Americans charged, former U.S. Army reservist Jeffrey Leon Battle, received specialized military training which he allegedly planned to use against American soldiers on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
The arrests came on a day that saw developments in two other high-profile post-September 11 terrorism cases. John Walker Lindh, the 21-year-old American who pleaded guilty in July to charges of aiding the Taleban, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. As part of a plea-bargain agreement that spared him a life sentence, he agreed to tell government what he may have witnessed while fighting with the Taleban in Afghanistan and to cooperate with prosecutors in testifying against others charged in connection with the war on terrorism.
At his sentencing hearing in federal court in Virginia, a crying Lindh said he accepted full responsibility for what he had done, saying he never would never have fought with the Taleban had he known the ousted regime was sheltering Osama bin Laden.
And in another high profile case, accused shoe bomber Richard Reid charged with trying to blow up a transatlantic flight last December with explosives hidden in his shoes pleaded guilty to attempted murder.
Attorney General Ashcroft called the day's events a triple win in the war against terrorism. "Today is a defining day in America's war against terrorism," he said. "We've neutralized a suspected terrorist cell within our borders, we've convicted an attempted suicide bomber and an American pledged and trained and captured in violent jihad is sentenced."
In the case of shoe bomber Richard Reid, the 29-year-old British citizen pleaded guilty to all eight charges against him, including attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. It was last December 22 that fellow passengers on board an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami overpowered him, after Reid tried to ignite explosives hidden in his shoes.
In federal court in Boston Friday, he declared himself a follower of Osama bin Laden and an enemy of America. He could face 60 years to life in prison when he is sentenced in January.