The Stranger continues its serialized coverage of the James Ujaama trial. For our previous coverage, please see thestranger.com/specials/ujaama.html.

On Monday, April 14, James Ujaama, the 37-year-old Seattle man indicted last August for "conspiracy to provide material support and resources" to al Qaeda by plotting to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon, struck a plea bargain with the U.S. Attorney's Office. The al Qaeda charges, which carried a 25-year sentence, were dropped when Ujaama agreed to testify against Abu Hamza. Hamza is the radical London-based cleric whom the feds believe orchestrated the November 1999 Bly plot and recruited for al Qaeda through London's Finsbury Park mosque.

Ujaama did plead guilty to a lesser felony count: conspiring to support the Taliban with computer software, technology, and services. Ujaama will now serve two years in prison, with credit for time served since July 2002. Given that the punishment for providing goods and services to the Taliban could have involved as much as 10 years, Ujaama's deal may indicate that the feds couldn't sustain the al Qaeda charges--and instead used the Taliban charge and potential punishment as a bargaining chip to get Ujaama's testimony against their real target: big fish Hamza.

Seattle's Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Hamilton happily acknowledged, "Ujaama's cooperation will give us access to people we didn't have access to before. This takes us up the ladder in the fight against terrorism." However, the U.S. Attorney's Office rejects the idea that it didn't have the goods on the al Qaeda charges. It points out that in Monday's plea agreement, Ujaama admits to helping an "unindicted co-conspirator" travel from London to Afghanistan to attend a jihad training camp affiliated with al Qaeda.

But while it was certainly illegal (and fucked up) to help someone go play little-boy soldier at an al Qaeda training camp, it's not the chilling story the feds told in August 2002 when they issued their seven-page indictment. The original indictment (which never mentioned relocating co-conspirator #2 from London to Afghanistan) was instead heavy on accusations concerning armed-robbery plots, military bunkers, the manufacture of poisons, and the firebombing of vehicles. That case always seemed a bit far-fetched, relying on innuendo--peppered with heavy use of the word "jihad"--rather than providing any concrete evidence.

Ultimately, according to Ujaama's attorney Robert Mahler, Ujaama--in offering testimony about the Hamza/Bly affair--"earnestly believes he will help exonerate people who are innocent." (Some of Ujaama's friends from East Union Street's now-defunct Dar-us-Salaam mosque in the Central Area--including Ujaama's brother--were involved with the Bly property.)

After closely covering the Ujaama hearings last fall, I never doubted that Ujaama--a hustling entrepreneur--had found a market niche to match his radical politics, and so had pitched his services to the Taliban. I also came to believe that Ujaama did spend quality time with Hamza.

But Ujaama had the right to his radical beliefs--and unless the feds could trot out blueprints for a planned terrorist hit orchestrated by Ujaama, the terror cell charges always struck me as far too vague to meet constitutional standards.

josh@thestranger.com