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Monday, May 12, 2003  

Meet the Portland Seven:

Part III: October Martinique Lewis

The lesser defendants are, in my opinion, October Martinique Lewis, Muhammad Ibrahim Bilal and Habis al Saoub, a man from Jordan. I'm calling them 'lesser' because their involvement in the Portland Seven case or cases is attenuated in some way. In regard to Saoub, it is because he is the only one of the seven indicted in absentia. Lewis' role was that of the loyal, and apparently not very cynical, wife. The younger Bilal spent less time with the other defendants than the remaining males and left town while the case against the seven was being developed.

Lewis, who was born in Vallejo, Calif., mothered a young boy, her stepson Ibrahim, and worked at a nursing home as an aide. That changed one fall day in 2002.

On October 4th, three men were arrested under suspicion of being terrorists. They lived not far from my southwest Portland home in the 65-unit Westport Square Apartments. Interestingly, the Rizwan Mosque is located close-by on SW 35th Drive. The apartment complex is also close to another mosque. We heard that FBI agents had been living in the same apartment complex during their investigation. A neighbor of two of the suspects called the FBI after he became concerned about Muslim men gathering late at night and hearing a child state that September 11th was a victory. The men were frequently seen transferring items such as a large duffle bag from a car to their apartment.

Lewis was also taken into custody. The arrests were the culmination of eye-catching behavior that had begun more than a year ago.

According to the indictment, five of the suspects set out for Afghanistan in October 2001 with the intention of helping Al-Qaida fight U.S. troops but never made it through the Chinese border. Lewis stayed in Portland and wired information and more than $2,000 to Battle, her ex-husband, as he tried to join the Taliban, the indictment states.

Federal officials say four of the suspects -- including Battle and Ford -- also engaged in weapons training at a gravel pit in Washington state two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.

By the time of the arrests, some of the seven had been under the watchful eye of the FBI for months.

The manager of the Westport Square Apartments in Portland, where some of the suspects lived, said FBI agents had been living on the property since June, "so I knew they were under surveillance."

In emails messages written while her husband and the other male suspects where in China in 2001 Lewis seems blissfully unaware that those communications might become evidence against them some day. The messages also belie the claim that Lewis and Battle were no longer married. Though they sought and received a civil divorce, they may have still considered themselves wed under Islamic law.

Lewis, 25, and Battle, 32, divorced five months after their September 1999 marriage, but they continued to live together at a southwest Portland apartment complex flanked by two mosques.

As experts will tell you is often the case with women accused of crimes, Lewis' trajectory began with meeting one, Jeffrey Leon Battle.

According to Lewis's mother, the couple met in Houston, then moved to Portland in 1998.

In Portland, Battle and Lewis -- who was caring for Battle's 5-year-old son, Ibrahim, whom he had with another woman -- were very involved with other devout Muslims, and avoided contact with non-Muslim neighbors. Battle wore a beard and long white or tan robes, while Lewis also wore roomy, ankle-length robes and covered her entire face, except her eyes, with a veil.

Lewis, a soft-spoken woman, sought release on bail after her arrest. The trial court granted her request, only to have the order overturned on appeal. That appears to be related to the nature of the charges. Accusations of terrorism are not being taken lightly.

The ace in Lewis' hand is that she did not go to China with the male defendants. That means her behavior will have to be scrutinized more closely for an act in the furtherance of terrorism. The federal prosecutors will likely say the travel engaged in by the six men, and other activities such as target shooting, meet that requirement for them.

Just a few weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks last year, a deputy sheriff in Skamania County, Wash., responded to a complaint about gunshots at a rural gravel pit. Six men in Muslim caps were testing out an arsenal of weaponry, including an assault rifle and semiautomatic pistols. The deputy took their names. A month later, when one was arrested for carrying illegal weapons, the officer recognized him and called the fbi. Four of the others would later be named in the indictment.

Lewis' mother has said her daughter no longer considers herself married to Battle and that she would like to get on with her life as a single woman if she is not convicted. October Lewis' best hope may be that the judge allows her a separate trial. If so, she will not be effected as much by the evidence against the others as she will be if the Portland Seven are tried as a group.

1:37 AM