WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has brought an Al Qaeda suspect to the United States to face trial in federal court, backing off its hard-line position that terrorist suspects should be sent to the naval prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, rather than to civilian courtrooms.
The suspect, Ali Charaf Damache, was transferred from Spain and was scheduled to appear Friday in federal court in Philadelphia, making him the first foreigner brought to the United States to face terrorism charges under President Trump. A court clerk confirmed that Mr. Damache was due to appear Friday afternoon.
Authorities believe Mr. Damache was an Al Qaeda recruiter. He was charged with helping plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet Muhammad in cartoons.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly said that terrorism suspects should be held and prosecuted at Guantánamo Bay. Mr. Sessions said terrorists do not deserve the same legal rights as common criminals and that such trials were too dangerous to hold on American soil. With Mr. Damache’s transfer, Mr. Sessions has adopted a strategy that he vehemently opposed when it was carried out under President Barack Obama.
For years, Republicans portrayed civilian trials as a weakness in Mr. Obama’s national security policy. His plan to prosecute Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, in New York fizzled amid controversy. Since then, however, federal prosecutors have consistently won convictions and lengthy prison sentences for foreign terrorists and helped glean crucial intelligence.
Mr. Damache’s transfer represents a collision of the Trump administration’s tough rhetoric and the reality of fighting terrorism in 2017. Though Mr. Trump has promised to fill Guantánamo Bay with “bad dudes,” nations worldwide, including America’s most important allies, have come to regard the prison there as a legal morass and a symbol of American abuse and mistreatment.
Mr. Damache, a dual Algerian and Irish citizen, was arrested in Ireland in 2010. But he was released after an Irish judge rejected a request from the United States to extradite him. He was arrested again in 2015 in Spain. Under Mr. Obama, the Justice Department began seeking his extradition, and that effort continued under Mr. Trump. Had the Trump administration insisted on bringing Mr. Damache to Guantánamo Bay, it would have met strong opposition from Europe.
Mr. Damache is wanted in connection with a failed attempt to kill a Swedish cartoonist who had depicted the Prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body. His identity surfaced in the high-profile case of Colleen LaRose, who became known as “Jihad Jane.” Ms. LaRose, of Pennsburg, Pa., pleaded guilty in 2011 to providing support to a terrorist group, conspiring to murder a foreigner and lying to the F.B.I. She was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison.