Government asks to shield witnesses at federal terror trial

Published 3:27 pm Friday, April 19, 2024

By Justin Story, Bowling Green Daily News

BOWLING GREEN — Federal prosecutors have requested that measures be taken to protect the identities of a number of witnesses anticipated to testify at the upcoming trial of a Bowling Green man accused of fighting with ISIS.

The trial of Mirsad Ramic, 34, on three criminal counts related to allegations that he joined and trained with the terror group is set to begin June 4 in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green.

Ramic has been charged with providing material support and resources to ISIS, conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS and receiving military-type training from a designated terrorist organization.

A Bosnian national with dual U.S. citizenship who has lived most of his life in Bowling Green, Ramic is said to have traveled from the U.S. to Istanbul, Turkey, in 2014 on a flight that was to have terminated in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

In Istanbul, Ramic is alleged to have paid with cash for a flight to Gaziantep, Turkey, near the Syrian border, flown to that city and smuggled himself into Syria to join ISIS.

Federal court records claim that Ramic left Syria in 2015 and was arrested in Turkey on charges related to his alleged activity with ISIS, convicted and imprisoned there before being deported in 2021 to answer to the criminal charges against him in the U.S.

Ramic is alleged to have conspired with two Saudi nationals who attended Western Kentucky University and also, court documents indicate, took a circuitous route to Syria and joined the terror group, with one of the men later dying.

A flurry of motions were filed earlier this month in the criminal case.

One submitted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Judd and trial attorney Kevin Nunnally with the U.S. Department of Justice asks that an “FBI covert employee, two confidential human sources and three cooperating witnesses” have their identities protected at trial when they are anticipated to testify.

The prosecutors propose that the witnesses use a pseudonym while testifying and that the courtroom be cleared of all spectators when the witnesses testify, with the public listening to testimony in a separate room over an audio broadcast and transcripts made available afterward.

Other protective measures proposed by the government include allowing those witnesses to use non-public entrances and exits at the courthouse and prohibiting defense attorneys from asking any questions seeking personal identifying information from any of those witnesses.

Two of the anonymous cooperating witnesses are described in the motion as “former ISIS members who interacted with Ramic during his time with the terrorist organization,” with one of those witnesses anticipated to testify about his interactions with Ramic in Syria after they met at what is described as “an ISIS military training camp.”

Another cooperating witness is described as “a university administrator who had the misfortune of receiving electronic messages from Ramic’s co-conspirators and is needed to authenticate those documents.”

Judd and Nunnally argue that the FBI covert employee and the FBI confidential human sources need to have their identities protected in part to avoid potential reprisals from ISIS, though they say there are no specific threats against the witnesses that have been identified.

“ISIS itself is … world renowned for its violent conduct,” said the motion from Judd and Nunnally. “They have in the past published the names and addresses of U.S. troops and encouraged its followers in America to ‘deal with’ them … there is a legitimate risk that publicly revealed identifying information concerning the undercover witnesses could lead to unacceptable, and wholly unnecessary, risk.”

The FBI-affiliated witnesses also should be allowed to testify anonymously because disclosing their identities “would jeopardize ongoing undercover investigations in which they were, or in which they are, currently involved,” the prosecutors argue.

In a separate motion, federal prosecutors have asked the court to allow into evidence four documents, three of which purport to contain identifying information supplied by Ramic and his two co-conspirators to ISIS’s “general border administration” in what is described as a “Mujahid information form.”

“This form was one way in which ISIS attempted to accurately record and track the attributes of the tens of thousands of foreign fighters flooding its ranks,” said the motion filed by Judd and trial attorney Jessica Fender of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The prosecutors say this information came into the FBI’s possession in 2015 in a thumb drive provided by a confidential source, who obtained it “through a sub-source in Raqqa, Syria who, in turn, claimed the information had been obtained from an unidentified male in Raqqa, Syria.”

“That unidentified male claimed to have found the information in a ‘bombed out building’ near the Raqqa stadium,” the prosecutors’ motion said. “The unidentified male who provided the information did so in exchange for monetary compensation.”

Ramic’s attorney, federal public defender Scott Wendelsdorf, has not yet filed a response to those motions.

Wendelsdorf filed a motion earlier this month seeking to prevent the government from mentioning at trial Ramic’s attempted travels to Yemen in 2010 and Saudi Arabia in 2011 or 2012.

Court documents allege that Ramic had gone to Yemen to attend a religious school but was turned away when he failed to obtain a student visa, and that he applied to a school in Saudi Arabia as well.

Wendelsdorf argues that it would be “wholly disingenuous” for the government to claim that those earlier travel efforts are evidence of the crimes for which he is charged, and that the government is in effect trying to “tell the jury that the defendant is likely to have committed the charged offenses because he is a Muslim.”

“No link exists between the alleged acts charged in the indictment and the attempts to enter Islamic universities some years before,” Wendelsdorf said in his motion. “Tying (Ramic) to these earlier efforts does nothing to show that he is guilty of the allegations in this case – other than to support the argument that defendant is the kind of person who engages in ‘violent jihad.’ ”

A final pretrial conference is set for May 21.