FORT LEWIS, Wash. -- The military began a hearing yesterday to determine if a National Guardsman should be court-martialed on charges that he tried to assist Al Qaeda and join the organization so he could conduct terrorist attacks.
Specialist Ryan G. Anderson, 26, a Muslim convert and member of the Washington Guard's 81st Armor Brigade, was arrested in February and charged with four counts of attempting to provide information to the terrorist network.
A fifth count disclosed yesterday alleged that Anderson told undercover military personnel: ''I wish to desert from the US Army. I wish to defect from the United States. I wish to join Al Qaeda, train its members, and conduct terrorist attacks."
Yesterday's proceeding at this Army base south of Tacoma was an Article 32 hearing, similar to a preliminary hearing in civilian court.
Military law says those convicted of trying to aid the enemy could face the death penalty.
The first witness yesterday was Shannen Rossmiller of Conrad, Mont., who belongs to a group that tracks terrorist activity and provides the information to the government. Rossmiller testified that she saw a posting last October on a Muslim-oriented site by ''Amir Abdul Rashid." She said she linked that name and e-mail address to Anderson through a string of Internet searches.
Then she posted a message seeking people interested in fighting a holy war against the United States, and Rashid wrote back, she said. ''He was curious if a brother fighting on the wrong side could join or defect," said Rossmiller, who contacted authorities.