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Men recorded while plotting attacks on U.S. troops: prosecutor

An informant spent about three years secretly recording three men as they plotted to recruit and train terrorists to attack troops overseas, a U.S. federal prosecutor said Tuesday.

An informant spent about three years secretly recording three men as they plotted to recruit and train terrorists to attack troops overseas, a U.S. federal prosecutor said Tuesday.

Defence attorneys alleged in opening statements in the three men's trial that the informant made up the case to keep a six-figure government "gravy train" going.

The U.S. government began laying out its case against the three, who prosecutors said were recorded having conversations about making explosives, recruiting others to help in the plot and raising money to fund their plans to harm American troops.

"These defendants are going to tell you what was in their mind and in their hearts" in the recordings, prosecutor Thomas Getz told jurors in his opening statement.

"You're going to hear them on more than one occasion celebrating the deaths of American soldiers."

Mohammad Zaki Amawi, Marwan Othman El-Hindi and Wassim I. Mazloum are accused of conspiring to kill or maim people outside the United States, including military personnel in Iraq. They face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.

Amawi's attorney, Timothy Ivey, told jurors that the informant received $350,000 to work with the government and that he concocted the conversations about training for a holy war overseas. The three were never recorded saying they had agreed to kill American soldiers or help others do it, he said.

"This case is about a contrived and misplaced effort on the part of the government to go out and find terror cells, and create terror cells if you cannot find one," Ivey said.

Prosecutors said the informant who foiled the plot is Darren Griffin, who spent 14 years in the military before a knee injury ended his career. Authorities previously identified him only as the "trainer."

Griffin spent time in the Middle East in the military and while there gained knowledge of Islam. He began working with the FBI and later befriended the three men at a Toledo mosque, Getz said.

Defence says informant manipulated evidence

El-Hindi's attorney, Steve Hartman, said his client told Griffin during at least two taped conversations that he was not recruiting anyone for a holy war. Griffin lied and manipulated evidence he turned over to the government, Hartman said.

"He did everything he could to keep this investigation going," he said. "That's how he stayed on the gravy train."

Griffin blew through the money he got from the government and had 200 overdrafts on his checking accounts, Hartman said. He owed child support and had a history of drug use, Hartman said.

Prosecutors acknowledged that Griffin has a rough past, but Getz said he was the perfect man to undertake such a challenging assignment. Even Griffin's family had no idea he was working with the government; they were under the impression that he had become a radical, Getz said.

Mazloum's lawyer deferred his opening statement until later in the trial, which is expected to last up to three months.

Ivey said operators of terror cells in the U.S. generally try to blend in, but these three did not. They had long beards, they didn't dress like Americans and they went target shooting at a shooting range with their long beards, he said.

There is no evidence other than the conversations involving Griffin of telephone conversations or e-mails of the alleged plot, Ivey said.

Two Chicago-area cousins who also are accused in the case are scheduled to face trial next year. Four of the accused are U.S. citizens, while Mazloum entered the U.S. legally from Lebanon.