FALLS CHURCH, Va. – By the U.S. government’s account, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali
used his time studying in Saudi Arabia to plot the assassination of
President Bush. But to supporters here, the young man’s studies at Saudi
Arabia’s University of Medina were nothing more than a spiritual break
before a settled life in American suburbia.

Two divergent stories about Abu Ali emerged yesterday as the 23-year-old
student from Northern Virginia sat in federal custody.

To U.S. officials, the young man is a shadowy would-be assassin who hatched
a plan with an al-Qaida member in 2002 and 2003 to shoot the president or
kill him with a car bomb. To friends and family, the U.S. citizen is a high
school valedictorian who dreamed of marrying an American, perhaps working
as an engineer and teaching the Koran.

In the family’s Falls Church home at the top of a 10-story high rise, Faten
Abu Ali, the suspect’s mother, was still processing the news that her son
was suspected of attempting to kill the president and facing a string of
charges. She said she heard the charges for the first time in court yesterday.

“I laughed on every count,” she said. “I know the government is lying.”

But U.S. officials are taking this case seriously.

“After the devastating terrorist attack and murders of Sept. 11, the
defendant turned his back on America and joined the cause of al Qaida,”
U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said in a statement. “He now stands charged
with some of the most serious offenses our nation can bring against
supporters of terrorism.”

After the court appearance yesterday, Abu Ali’s relatives said they were
eager to see him for the first time since he was detained in Saudi Arabia
without charges in June 2003. The family has been fighting for his return;
a lawsuit on his behalf contends the U.S. government encouraged Saudi
officials to hold him there for interrogation”¦

“We believe in the U.S. justice system. We believe this country is based on
good morals.


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