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Trial record provides account of Oregon jihad camp

BLY, Ore. (AP) - The trial of a man convicted of plotting to help recruit for al-Qaida has provided the fullest account yet of what went on a decade ago at a terrorism training camp in Oregon that never came to fruition.

According to the trial record, Oussama Kassir was enraged after first arriving at the remote Dog Cry Ranch near Bly, about 230 miles southeast of Portland.

He expected to be welcomed by Muslim recruits, eager to learn the ways of war. Instead, he got an Islamic leader from Seattle, a mentally impaired 18-year-old, and two women more interested in canning jars than jihad.

He expected access to a weapons armory. He got one pistol and a .22-caliber rifle.

Kassir recently was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the camp, which was intended to be an Islamic fighter training base. His alleged partners in the enterprise - Abu Hamza al-Masri and Haroon Rashid Aswat - are awaiting extradition to the U.S.

According to court records, the whole setup was a hustle by petty crook James Ujaama of Seattle. Ujaama is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to providing material support to terrorists by trying to set up the camp.

He envisioned the Oregon camp as an Islamic time share, selling visits to foreign Muslims. He twice lured groups from his Seattle mosque for weekend visits to the ranch.

In late 1999, Ujaama made a pitch to a London imam, Abu Hamza al-Masri. He promised al-Masri a safe haven, recruits and weapons to transform the desert ranch into a Muslim military training camp, court records said.

Al-Masri bought the pitch, and Kassir soon found himself on a trans-Atlantic flight to the U.S. He would later boast that he had trained in al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan, court documents allege.

Kassir brought along a partner, Haroon Rashid Aswat, supposedly an al-Qaida trainer himself, court records said. Aswat later would spend time in an al-Qaida safe house in Pakistan, his visit recorded in a ledger bearing the fingerprints of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

For the Oregon trip, Aswat packed homemade training CDs with instructions on how to make bombs and poisons, court records allege.

He and Kassir arrived at the ranch in December 1999 and were welcomed by Semi Osman, a mechanic and part-time imam from Seattle. He had recently moved into a ramshackle mobile home on the ranch with his wife, their daughter, and his wife's teenage brother. The only other person at the ranch was the Islamic wife of the sheep rancher who owned the place.

Kassir looked around the scruffy compound of two mobile homes and a few outbuildings. In the kitchen of one of the mobile homes, he turned on Ujaama.

Over and over, Kassir demanded of Ujaama: Where are the recruits? Where are the recruits?

Ujaama and Osman said the would-be jihadists had families and jobs in Seattle and couldn't move down.

Where, then, are the guns? Kassir demanded.

Ujaama responded that the men from Seattle said they had a couple and would get more.

Kassir raged on, asking about housing for their beloved imam once he arrived from London.

Where are you going to put this man? Kassir asked.

By morning, Ujaama was gone and so was his idea of a Muslim retreat.

Kassir wasn't ready to give up on the training camp. He initiated night patrols, leading Aswat, the Seattle imam and the mentally impaired teenager on all-night forays. They dressed in black and checked fence lines, looking for signs of intruders. Kassir explained they were practicing reconnaissance.

Using what guns they had, they practiced shooting in an advancing line, from a crouch and from sniperlike positions on the hills. They bought a shotgun for their tiny arsenal, but Kassir took it for himself. From then on, he carried it over his shoulder wherever he went on the ranch.

Al-Masri called the ranch from London one day to check on progress. The call alarmed Osman.

"You can't have him call here, because he has heat on him," Osman told the others.

But it was too late. British and U.S. authorities had been tracking developments at the ranch almost from the start.

Hyat Hakimah, the ranch owner's wife, was growing uneasy with developments. She had expected to run a sort of home extension service for Muslims at her place.

"They were, you know, training for war," she later explained. She and her husband were never implicated in any wrongdoing.

She soon left the ranch. And a month later, the visitors were gone too. Kassir and Aswat took refuge in a Seattle mosque and tried taking the training to the Muslims who hadn't wanted to move to Bly.

After a few classes, the men from London gave up and packed their bags for home. Kassir explained his exasperation to Osman.

"I've been trying to train these brothers," Kassir said. "They're not taking it seriously."
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