An appeals court handed down a decision affecting the ocnviction of a group of American jihadis who attempted to fight for the Taliban in 2001, after 9/11. The convictions were upheld, and one case was referred back to the district court because his sentence was too light. The decision, available here as a PDF, is fascinating for two reasons.
First, laying out the facts behind the charges, we can see the cultishness and self-absorption of conservative Islam.
Between 1999 and September 11, 2001, Khan, Chapman and Hammad [the appellants] attended the Dar al Arqam Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia where Ali Timimi ("Timimi"), a primary lecturer, spoke of the necessity to engage in violent jihad1 against the enemies of Islam and the "end of time" battle between Muslims and non-Muslims. Several of the attendees, including Chapman and Hammad, organized a group to engage in activities in preparation for jihad. (pg 4)
Right next door to the Capital, while we were all obsessing over stained dresses, a group was indulging in end times fantasies. Earlier in the Clinton administration, a similarly Armageddon minded group was treated to a siege.
In the spring of 2000, members of the group began simulating combat through paintball exercises and practices at firing ranges. By early summer, the group was meeting every other weekend. Chapman, Hammad, and others brought AK-47 style rifles to paintball training and also practiced marksmanship. Members were required to follow three rules: don't tell anyone, don't bring anyone, and invoke the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if questioned by the police. pg 4)
Not unlike the 9/11 hijackers attending at flight school, they took advantage of a mundane recreational activity to plot violence against us. The appellate judge did not buy their arguments that their little paintball sessions were merely recreational.
What's a little disappointing is that the FBI was aware of their paintball activities in 2000, but did nothing about the appellants. This is after one of them had traveled to Pakistan, joined Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), and fired on Indian positions in Kashmir.
9/11 galvanized the appellants. Timmini argued that the attacks should not be condemned. He was thereafter turned out of the Dar al Arqam Islamic Center and tapes of his speeches destroyed. Shortly thereafter, the appellants decided to travel to Pakistan to make their way to join the Taliban. They failed to do so, and although they spent time in Pakistan's terror training camps, they eventually returned to the U.S. They were not arrested and charged until 2003.
The second interesting aspect of the decision is how cowardly and weak these men appear now that they are faced with punishment for their crimes. It may be that their actions and arguments are solely an attempt to manipulate the legal system, and that they don't really believe what their lawyers are saying. But it is also possible that they are, deep down, rats scurrying from a fire.
First, one of the conspirators turned on the others.
Caliph told the FBI that paintball was used for jihad training and that the reason the trainees had acquired AK-47-style rifles was that they were the type of weapon used overseas. When Hammad learned of the admissions, he called a colleague with the "bad news" that Caliph had "cracked."
Later, they made utterly preposterous arguments for their innocence. One of them attempted to challenge the finding that he knew that LET was engaged in violent jihad by saying that although he provided material support to them, he never learned the nature of LET as an organization. The court did not indulge this argument:
The evidence reflects that LET broadly disseminated its goals for the destruction of India, America, and Israel on its web site and elsewhere. Khan was personally acquainted with Singh, an LET official, whom he assisted in purchasing paramilitary equipment. Even if Khan remained unaware of the nature of LET's activities before training in its camps, he was certainly aware of it by the time he returned to them after leaving temporarily because the LET camps were full of descriptions of LET's violent exploits. (pg 11)
Another attempted to argue that the group's paintball exercises had nothing to do with training to fight for the Taliban.
This assertion, however, is belied by the record. Ample evidence demonstrates that Hammad continued to train people in his paintball group after he learned that some members of the group were going to work with LET in the fight against India. In light of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the district court expressly declined to "credit [Hammad's] testimony that paintball was strictly for recreation and physical fitness." J.A. 3207. We conclude that sufficient evidence supports Hammad's conviction for knowingly providing material support to LET in the form of trained personnel. (pg 15)
These appellants are no different than the members of a criminal gang. Once caught, once challenged, they give up on their cause and start looking out for themselves. Timmini, their spiritual leader, had told them that only cowards would turn from war against the U.S. Eventually, these men turned.
The case should also serve as a reminder to all of us of the importance of allowing law enforcement to pursue cases like this. The court does not provide detail in this decision as to why the FBI zeroed in on these jihadis in 2003. Since they had ties to LET overseas, and had provided LET material support, we can speculate that the NSA surveillance program might have intercepted some of their communications.
If that's the case, then thank God the New York Times editors hadn't turned on us earlier. Who knows what this bunch might have gotten up to if they hadn't been caught.