HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - We are following the developments out of the preliminary hearing for Aziz Sayyed, who is accused of planning a terrorist attack in Madison County.
Authorities arrested Sayyed on June 15, and he's been in jail since then.
He is charged with providing or soliciting support for terrorism in the 2nd degree. Prosecutors say Sayyed watched ISIS videos and planned to build a bomb, like the one used in a recent terror attack in Manchester, England that killed 22 people.
They asked Madison County District Judge Schuyler Richardson to order no bond for Sayyed, or a $150,000 cash bond.
But Sayyed's lawyer Bruce Gardner says since the charge is a Class C Felony, the bond schedule for the state is in the range of $2,500 to $30,000. He wants to see a bond that Sayyed can make, and argued that electronic monitoring and family supervision is sufficient.
Madison County Assistant District Attorney Jay Town argued the case was unique with no precedent in Alabama law. He told the court that because Sayyed is alleged to have sworn allegiance to a foreign group -- ISIS -- he remains an ongoing threat and so the court must balance Sayyed's right to bond against public safety concerns.
Gardner argued the state's argument was a perverse reading of the constitution.
Tuesday was the first time the case against Sayyed was laid out by an investigator testifying under oath.
STAC agent Brad Snipes, a Huntsville Police Department investigator, testified that the investigation into Sayyed began in January by the FBI. His testimony indicated the Huntsville Police Department was the other major agency involved in the investigation, but they apparently were not brought in until shortly before Sayyed's June 15 arrest.
Snipes testified investigators obtained a number of recordings of Sayyed talking about watching ISIS beheading videos and making claims about pledging allegiance to ISIS and that he used a private browser to learn how to make an explosive device similar to the Manchester bomb. Snipes testified all of the recordings were obtained by informants and were in Arabic. The FBI translated the recordings into English, he said.
Snipes also testified that at some point, Sayyed was being monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. During that period, he was observed buying materials at two different Walmarts in early June that could be used to help make the bomb, including acetone and hydrogen peroxide. Snipes testified the use of different stores suggested Sayyed was using "tradecraft" to avoid detection.
Snipes' testimony also included an alleged claim by Sayyed that it would only take about six hours to build the bomb and that he was interested in placing it during the week of June 12.
Snipes said Iranian money and Sayyed's passport were among the items found in his apartment, along with more than a dozen knives and a piece of plywood that had throwing knives and other knives stuck into it.
Madison County Chief Trial Attorney Tim Gann later commented in an interview that he believes Sayyed is a flight risk: "According to the testimony there was a passport. There was foreign currency. If you ask, do I think he would try to get out of here and leave, yes. Absolutely."
He added, "I firmly believe the safety of the public is much more important than his rights."
Snipes told the court that on the recordings, Sayyed was interested in attacking non-civilian targets such as a police station on military base. The investigator said the recordings also revealed Sayyed didn't want to die, so he could be able to carry out more attacks.
He testified that Sayyed was questioned by the FBI and an HPD officer for about four hours after his arrest. Snipes said the accused admitted to making statements heard on the tapes, but the testimony Tuesday did not make it sound like Sayyed made additional statements about use of a bomb or an attack during the FBI interview.
His attorney Bruce Gardner said the case against Sayyed was puzzling. He said there were statements obtained by unknown informants and that the materials prosecutors said could be used in a bomb attack didn't appear to have been opened, according to Snipes' testimony. Gardner also said there were wide gaps in the prosecution's timeline of the case.
"There are no wire tapped conversations with my clients done by the FBI or any agents who were present during the time these recordings were made. They are all surreptitiously done by maybe somebody with an axe to grind," he said during an interview. "It is something we could use."
Gardner also noted that the glass beakers Sayyed allegedly needed to mix the chemicals were never obtained from Hobby Lobby, as the recording suggested Sayyed intended.
"I'm very encouraged because what we have is a lot of maybe suspicious activity, but no meat to it," said Gardner in the interview following the hearing. "Was there any evidence they [the chemicals] were even unsealed? That anybody was ever going to do anything other than purchase them? Other than talk? And the answer is no."
Judge Richardson found there was enough evidence to move Sayyed's case on to a grand jury, but has yet to make a ruling about the bond as of 10:15 p.m. Tuesday.
"We are hopeful the judge will set a bond in an amount that we can make. If we can do that, we will be extremely happy," said Gardner. "What you heard in there is a young man who is a citizen of the United States with no criminal record, is 22 years old, and was a student here. And you can't under any Constitutional principle deny him a bond. I can't say what the bond will be, but he has to have one."
Gann said, "Although the law says as it states right now he is required to have a bond, I don't think the law anticipated a situation like this where you are dealing with a domestic terrorist."