Left: Terror suspect Wassim I. Mazloum being led from the courthouse in Toledo, courtesy of FOX News
(Toledo, OH) Perhaps lost amidst the startling indictments of three Toledo area men today on terrorism charges was the mention of a fourth man, who was identified as an informant nicknamed "The Trainer" in court documents.
A Justice Department statement today indicated that the informant "has been cooperating since the beginning of this investigation and acting on behalf of the government."
Very few clues can be derived from the indictments; "The Trainer" is described as "a US citizen...not named as a conspirator herein," who "has a US military background, and, in 2002, was solicited by [defendant] el-Hindi to assist in providing security and bodyguard training."
Who is this unnamed "trainer?"
The Justice Department indictments imply that the defendants sought out "The Trainer," but it seems odd that they would just "happen" to seek out an ex-US military man any more than they would just "happen" to seek out a butcher, a doctor, or a blogger. Just dumb luck on the part of the alleged terrorists?
This, to me, seems unlikely.
One theory of "The Trainer" is that he is a terrorist-turned-informant being used by counter-terrorism agencies to ferret out terrorist cells, trading his knowledge of terror cells for freedom.
In Mafia circles, "The Trainer" might be called a rat.
There is also speculation, though, that "The Trainer" is a trained US operative who is seeking out potential terrorists and enticing them across the line into criminal behavior.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales did not tip his hand in prepared remarks read before the press today, staying close to the script. He repeatedly cited "ongoing investigations and criminal cases" as a reason to defer specific questions about the investigation of the accused men.
And well he should; if indeed there are active terror cells, perhaps it is best that we are kept in the dark on the investigative end.
The indictment alleges that one man, Mohammad Zaki Amawi, twice threatened to kill or inflict bodily harm against President Bush while speaking with others in a plot that began in November 2004.
Amawi is a citizen of Jordan and the United States. The other men indicted in the plot are Marwan Othman El-Hindi, a US citizen born in Jordan; and Wassim I. Mazloum, who came to the US from Lebanon in 2000.
It will be interesting if the trials of the three men accused of terrorism will be open to the public, or if they will be carried out behind closed courtroom doors. Will we also see that these suspects claim entrapment by "The Trainer" and his handlers?
Or will the identity of "The Trainer" be the subject of articles 50 years down the road, when documents containing his name are unsealed?
Addendum, 9:40 PM: The Akron Beacon-Journal has an excellent article on the families of the suspects. Kudos to AB-J for getting this out so fast.
Addendum, 9:55: WLS-TV in Chicago is reporting that the accused three men may have set up a 2-man terrorist cll in the Chicago area, claiming that the "terror ring leaders had planted two operatives in Chicago who were being seasoned to help execute the deadly attacks on American soldiers."
Addendum, 11:11 PM: Time Magazine has a story online now; here's the important bits on "The Trainer":
A retired U.S. Special Forces soldier helped the FBI to uncover an alleged nascent terror cell in Toledo, Ohio, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney in Cleveland Thomas Getz. Three men, two U.S. citizens originally from Jordan and one U.S. resident from Lebanon, had asked the former U.S. commando for help in coordinating "jihad training exercises," according the indictment. But what the suspects didn't know, was that the retired soldier was working with investigators all along.
Identified in court papers only as "the Trainer," he earned the trust of the three men because, says Getz, "he was from the Muslim community." Getz would not say if "the Trainer" is of Arab descent or a long-time Muslim but said that he had cooperated voluntarily with the government from the beginning of the investigation going back at least to November 2004 and he was "acting on behalf of the (U.S.) government" the entire time