Trial begins in slaying of Elk Grove man in Iraq

The Tunisian suicide bomber who killed Elk Grove native Bryan E. Hall died alongside him.

But now, nearly six years after Hall was killed in Iraq, a Canadian resident charged with murder and conspiracy in the deaths of American soldiers, including Hall, is at the center of an unusual prosecution that’s crossing several borders.

“I was just so shocked that they were able to find this person,” Betty M. Hall, Bryan’s mother, said in a telephone interview. “It’s amazing to me that they can do something like that.”

Following an extradition battle that reached the Canadian Supreme Court, Faruq Khalil Muhammad ’Isa arrived in the United States and pleaded not guilty last month in federal court in Brooklyn. In prior legal proceedings, he has challenged some evidence against him as being wrung out by torture.

The former Edmonton, Alberta, resident is being held without bond.

From afar, Betty Hall and her husband, John, a retired IRS agent, have followed ’Isa’s case since his initial arrest by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in January 2011. Still living in Elk Grove, the Halls learned about ’Isa’s extradition shortly before the Justice Department alerted the media on Jan. 23.

Underscoring the case’s high profile, it was announced with a statement by Attorney General Eric Holder. It is being prosecuted by Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Lynch has been nominated to replace Holder.

“To those who orchestrate violence against our citizens and our soldiers … there is no corner of the globe from which they can hide from the long reach of the law,” Lynch said in announcing the extradition.

The case, prosecutors advised a judge in a letter made public Thursday, is also “extraordinarily complex,” involving everything from “foreign wiretap intercepts” and “classified information” to “crime scene evidence collected in Iraq.”

Betty Hall, 71, a retired manager, said she has mixed emotions about the latest legal developments. Serving justice, she suggested, can also unearth painful memories.

“I have put my son to rest,” she said, “and we’re moving forward.”

Bryan Hall entered the Army following his 1994 graduation from Elk Grove High School and a stint at Cosumnes River College. On April 10, 2009, he was bringing up the rear in a five-vehicle convoy leaving Forward Operating Base Marez. A large dump truck roared past a checkpoint and detonated next to Hall’s vehicle, leaving a 60-foot crater.

Hall was 32 when he died. Four other soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division were killed with him.

Hall was married and had a daughter, Addison. His body was brought home and buried at Pleasant Grove Cemetery in Elk Grove. Addison, now 7, is living in Northern California with Hall’s widow, Rachel.

The year before Bryan Hall graduated from high school, ’Isa had moved to Canada from his native Iraq. He became a dual citizen of both countries.

In court documents, U.S. officials cited wiretaps and other sources to identify ’Isa as a member of a network that transported fighters from Tunisia to Iraq for suicide missions.

The day after the 2009 bombing, according to the complaint, ’Isa attributed the attack to “one of the Tunisian brothers.”

’Isa also used code phrases such as “marriage to 70 virgins” when referring to suicide attacks, according to the complaint, which included transcripts from intercepted emails.

“When I want to name the brothers, I say the farmers, because they plant metal and harvest metal and flesh,” ’Isa wrote in a February 2010 email, according to the complaint.

Following his 2011 arrest, ’Isa assented to a lengthy interview with investigators, which was videotaped.

In fighting extradition, ’Isa alleged that he was denied access to a lawyer and that “U.S. investigative or enforcement personnel, or their Iraqi agents, inflicted torture” upon his brother and two other sources, the Court of Appeal of Alberta recounted in an August 2014 decision.

The brother elaborated that he was “beaten by Iraqi and U.S. forces for about seven days” while being questioned.

The Court of Appeal of Alberta concluded that while the torture allegations could conceivably be credible, a “considerable body” of other evidence supported the U.S. case against ’Isa. In 2012, a lower-level Canadian judge had dismissed the torture allegations, declaring that the United States has “a well-established and historic position as a leader in human rights and procedural justice.”

Still, Canadian officials secured a Justice Department commitment not to seek the death penalty against ’Isa as part of the extradition negotiations.

Chase Scolnick, a federal public defender assigned to represent ’Isa, did not respond to a request for comment.

If convicted, ’Isa faces a potential life sentence. Betty Hall says she is unlikely to attend the trial, explaining that there are some things she is “putting to rest,” but she may attend the sentencing if ’Isa is convicted.

“I am so glad,” she said, “that he will be tried in the American courts.”

McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com or (202) 383-0006.