An Al Qaeda suspect — the first foreign terror suspect to be brought in for trial under the Trump administration — was arraigned in federal court in Philadelphia Monday.
Ali Charaf Damache, 52, of Algeria, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and attempted identity theft to facilitate act of international terrorism.
Fox News previously reported that a 2011 indictment implicated Damache — who is believed to be a member of an Ireland-based cell and went by the name “Black Flag” — of backing terrorism. He also is accused of taking part in a thwarted scheme to murder Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks because he illustrated the Prophet Muhammad as a dog.
Damache, brought to Philadelphia from Spain in July, faces up to 45 years in prison.
No trial date has been set yet. Lawyers have 14 days for pre-trial motions.
His court-appointed attorney Joe Mancano would not comment on this case.
Damache will continue to be detained at the federal correctional facility in Philadelphia.
The Trump administration’s decision to bring Damache to the United States marked a break from Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ oft-stated belief that Guantanamo Bay is the best place for “these kinds of dangerous criminals.”
During his campaign, President Trump said he not only wanted to keep the detention center in Cuba open after the Obama administration had long fought to close it, but promised to “load it up with some bad dudes.”
Sessions and other Republicans often have expressed concern that civilian courts afford legal protections to which suspected terrorists are not entitled. He has warned valuable intelligence can be lost if a detainee is advised of his or her right to remain silent and to have a lawyer.
The Justice Department did not say what led officials to send Damache to federal court or whether it signals a shift in Sessions’ views.
“The individual involved in this case was indicted in 2011 in federal district court,” the department said in a statement. “The United States has consistently used the extradition process to obtain indicted fugitives who are overseas, so that they can stand trial in our federal courts.”
Damache initially was arrested in Ireland in 2010, but released with only the charge of sending a threatening text message. At the request of American officials, he was jailed in Spain in 2015 and had been fighting extradition to the U.S.
His female co-conspirators in the Irish cell included Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, a Colorado woman who married Damache in 2009 the day she arrived in Ireland to meet him in-person for the first time. She went on to assist the FBI in uncovering the Internet terrorist group that enlisted women with Western passports to champion the violent extremism and men to commit violent jihadist attacks in South Asia and Europe.
Paulin-Ramirez pleaded guilty to providing material aid to terrorists and now is serving eight years behind bars. Pennsylvania woman Colleen R. LaRose, who used the online persona “Jihadi Jane” also was exposed as a cell member. In 2011, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy and terrorism-associated charges and now is serving a 10-year sentence.
Fox News’ Tamara Gitt and The Associated Press contributed to this report.