Witnesses in terror case denied visas [Archives:2005/807/Front Page]

January 13 2005

By Anthony M. Destefano
U.S. consular officials in Yemen canceled on “national security grounds” visas that had been issued to four people needed as defense witnesses in a Brooklyn terrorism case, attorneys for the defendants said Monday.

Defense attorneys for Mohammed Al Hasan Al-Moayad and Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed disclosed the revocation of the visas just as preliminary jury selection was getting under way yesterday in Brooklyn federal court.

Al-Moayad, 56, a cleric from Yemen, and his assistant Zayed, 31, are scheduled to go on trial on charges they conspired to give support to the terrorist groups al-Qaida and Hamas. Al-Moayad is also charged with giving material support to those groups.

Attorney Jonathan Marks, who is representing Zayed, told Judge Sterling Johnson in court that the visas had been canceled.

Marks later told reporters that the witnesses were needed to testify in Brooklyn to support Zayed's entrapment defense.

Marks said “national security grounds” were given by U.S. embassy officials in Yemen for the cancelation. He said he received the news about the visas from an attorney in Yemen.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Moore told Johnson that she had not been informed about the reasons for the cancelations. “If there are security grounds there is not much we can do about it,” Moore told Johnson.

But if the visa snafu is just an administrative glitch she said her office would try to remedy the situation and get the visas reinstated.

“If there were security concerns why were they granted in the first place?,” Johnson asked rhetorically.

Department of State officials said late yesterday they were unable to trace the visas without the complete names, and dates and places of births of the witnesses. One official said visas are “revoked” in the country of origin but are only “canceled” at U.S. ports of entry.

Defense attorney Howard Jacobs said the four witnesses involved in the visa matter, who weren't identified, were also potential witnesses for his client Al-Moayad.

Along with the visa problems, defense attorneys also complained to Johnson about the pace and quality of the translation of surveillance video and audio tapes.

Al-Moayad and Zayed were arrested in January 2003 in Germany after security officials there recorded them talking to two U.S. undercover operatives. The defendants were then extradited to Brooklyn a few months later.

Labeling the transcripts provided so far as “deficient,” Al-Moayad's other attorney William Goodman wanted to put the trial off for several weeks. But Johnson was adamant about starting the case as planned this month.

“There will be no adjournment,” Johnson intoned.

Some 300 potential jurors were brought into the Brooklyn court house yesterday to fill out questionnaires about there backgrounds.