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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) -- A man accused of plotting to assassinate President Bush admitted many times that he joined al-Quaida and pondered hijackings similar to the Sept. 11 attacks, an FBI agent testified.

Agent Barry Cole’s testimony Tuesday came at a pretrial hearing for Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 23. A federal magistrate said Abu Ali posed a “grave danger” and ordered that he remain jailed pending trial.

“The defendant has in his own words indicated he is a grave, grave danger to this community and this nation,” said Judge Liam O’Grady after hearing Cole’s testimony.

Abu Ali was charged last week with providing support to al-Qaida and conspiring to assassinate the president. Authorities allege Abu Ali, who grew up in Virginia, joined al-Qaida while studying in Saudi Arabia.

Defense attorney John Zwerling claims the government obtained its confessions through torture, and that four attorneys had seen scars on Abu Ali’s back the defendant says were inflicted by Saudi authorities. Zwerling said after the hearing that he has more evidence to confirm claims of torture, but he would not discuss specifics.

Cole testified that he interviewed Abu Ali over four days in September 2003 and Abu Ali admitted he joined al-Qaida and discussed various potential acts, including a plan in which he would personally assassinate Bush.

Cole said other plans included hijacking planes in Great Britain and Australia and using them as missiles to attack targets in the United States, a plan to free prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and a plan to destroy naval ships in U.S. ports.

Zwerling said the various plots that Cole described were “preposterous.”

“How is he going to free the brothers at Guantanamo? Is he going to take a rowboat? Doesn’t that sound bizarre to you?” he asked Cole.

Abu Ali was in Saudi custody for nearly two years before charges were brought by the U.S. government. Zwerling said the government had obtained his alleged confession in September 2003 and suggested prosecutors would have brought charges then if they had a strong case.

Zwerling said the government only brought charges in the face of a civil lawsuit filed by Abu Ali’s parents that sought details of the U.S. government’s role in his detention in Saudi Arabia.

O’Grady said he would reconsider his decision to keep the defendant in custody if the defense could offer more evidence about statements made last year by FBI Assistant Director Michael Mason. Mason told a Muslim audience in northern Virginia that he believed the government had no interest in prosecuting Abu Ali and that he might soon be released.

O’Grady called Mason’s comments disturbing, and Zwerling said they are evidence the government did not believe it had a case.

Cole, a counterterrorism agent, said Abu Ali’s confessions are supported by the admissions of an al-Qaida cell leader in Saudi Arabia who surrendered to authorities. Cole said the al-Qaida cell leader gave Abu Ali money to purchase a laptop computer and cell phone.
 
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