BULLITT COUNTY, KY (WAVE) - They say the only person stronger than a soldier is the soldier's mother.
Becky Manning Woods Johnson lost her 24-year-old son, Staff Sergeant Gary Lee Woods of Lebanon Junction, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Six years after his death, Johnson finds her son at the center of a trial against an alleged terrorist. The trial, which is expected to begin in 2015, is already getting international attention.
On April 10, 2009, Woods was part of an American convoy exiting the U.S. Military's Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq when a suicide bomber attacks. Woods' vehicle was closest to that of the suicide bombers. Woods and four other American soldiers are killed. The blast also killed two Iraqis and left a 60-foot crater, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“When he was killed, I lost a very huge part of me,” Johnson said.
Woods grew up in Lebanon Junction where he played in the Bullitt Central High School band before graduating in 2002. His mother described him as a kind-hearted young man who loved surprising her.
He loved the Indianapolis Colts. He loved to fish. He loved his mother.
“He was momma's boy. Definitely, momma's boy,” she said. “He was my heart. He was my soul.”
He signed up for the Army not long after graduation. Woods' basic training was completed at Fort Knox where he graduated as a 19K Tanker in June 2003. He was on his third deployment to Iraq when the attack happened.
Johnson will never forget the moment her daughter-in-law first told her the news.
“What I heard was her just sobbing and she said, ‘Mom, he's gone. Our boy is gone,'” she recalled.
On Easter Sunday, Johnson found herself on the tarmac of the Dover Air Force Base as her son returned home. Hundreds attended his services at the Maraman Billings Funeral Home in Shepherdsville.
In January 2011, Johnson received an unexpected phone call. A Federal Bureau of Investigations agent told her the man they believe was behind her son's attack, Faruk Khalil Muhammad ‘Isa, also known as Sayfildin Tahir Sharif, had been arrested in Edmonton, Canada on an American warrant.
She was in disbelief.
“You just don't hear of things like that happening when your child is killed in a war,” she said.
The FBI agent told her 'Isa was being linked to a multinational terrorist network that conducted the attack that killed her son.
The investigation into ‘Isa is being credited as an international effort between U.S., Canadian and Tunisian authorities.
Canadian officials had authorized 'Isa's phone be wiretapped. Investigators site multiple phone conversations in which ‘Isa speaks of recruiting suicide bombers from Tunisia.
The day after the April 10 attack, 'Isa is accused of commending the bomber who carried it out.
“Praise God, may God acknowledge him,” ‘Isa is quoted in the indictment. The FBI believes he was also plotting terrorist plots in North America.
‘Isa was born in Iraq but was a Canadian citizen. His extradition case goes before the Canadian Supreme Court. They decided not to hear his case, clearing the path for his extradition. He had his first court appearance in front of an American Judge on Jan. 24.
Johnson believes his return to American soil is a huge step towards justice.
His trial is expected to begin this year in the United States District Court in Brooklyn, New York. As part of the extradition negotiations, 'Isa will not face the death penalty if convicted, but rather a maximum sentence of life in prison. He faces one count of Conspiracy to Murder United States Nationals, five counts of Murder, and one count for Providing Material Support to Terrorists.
Johnson is trying to gather the funds necessary to attend the trial which is expected to begin this year.
“You had no right and no reason to take my child from me,” she plans on telling him.
“I want the judge to know Lee,” she said. “I want the judge to know exactly what was taken away from me.”
Johnson hopes to represent the thousands of parents who have lost a child to war and are still seeking some type of justice.The four other American soldiers died in the attack are Sergeant First Class Bryan E. Hall, 32, of Elk Grove, California; Sergeant Edward W. Forrest Jr., 25, of St. Louis, Missouri; Corporal Jason G. Pautsch, 20, of Davenport, Iowa; and Army Private First Class Bryce E. Gautier, 22, of Cypress California.
Johnson's friend has set up a fund to help her get to New York for the trial.
If you would like to help, you can donate to the fund by