Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Ali Al Timimi: American born Jihad recruiter convicted of urging holy war
Ali Al Timimi: American born Jihad recruiter convicted of urging holy war
Imam pursued Phd at George Mason University while recruiting students for Jihad
MIM: Ali Al Timimi - American born Jihadi with a Phd
Timimi's student work on the internet with his sermon
"...Ali al-Timimi, 41, a Ph.D. in computational biology and a self-professed Islamic scholar whom prosecutors described as enjoying "rock star" status among his followers in Virginia, was convicted today on all ten counts against him, including soliciting others to levy war against the United States and inducing others to use firearms in violation of federal law. The firearms convictions require mandatory life imprisonment without parole. Al-Timimi became the tenth member of the "Virginia jihad network" to be convicted; two were acquitted..." http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/32
Muslim man convicted of urging holy war
ALEXANDRIA, Va. - An Islamic scholar who prosecutors said enjoyed "rock star" status among a group of young Muslim men in Virginia was convicted Tuesday of exhorting his followers in the days after Sept. 11 to join the Taliban and fight U.S. troops.
The convictions against Ali al-Timimi, 41, carry a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison without parole. But the judge left open the possibility that she will toss out some of the counts.
The jury reached its verdict after seven days of deliberations and convicted al-Timimi of all 10 counts.
Prosecutors said the defendant - a native U.S. citizen who has an international following in some Muslim circles - wielded enormous influence among a group of young Muslim men in northern Virginia who played paintball games in 2000 and 2001 as a means of training for holy war around the globe.
Five days after Sept. 11, al-Timimi addressed a small group of his followers in a secret meeting and warned that the attacks were a harbinger of a final apocalyptic battle between Muslims and non-believers. He said they were required as Muslims to defend the Taliban from a looming U.S. invasion, according to the government.
While nobody ever joined the Taliban, four of the defendant's followers subsequently traveled to Pakistan in late September 2001 and trained with a militant group called Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Three of them testified that their intention had been to use the training they received from the group to join the Taliban and fight in Afghanistan, and that it was al-Timimi's speech that inspired them to do so.
The evidence included a 2003 e-mail in which al-Timimi described the Columbia shuttle disaster as "a good omen" that "Western supremacy (especially that of America) that began 500 years ago is coming to an end, God willing."
"By his treasonous criminal acts, he has proven himself to be a kingpin of hate against America," U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty said in a statement. "He not only wanted Americans to die, he recruited others to his cause at a time when our country was mourning the loss of more than 3,000 people who were murdered in a heinous act of terrorism."
The three followers who testified against al-Timimi have all struck plea bargains, and the defense contended they were lying in the hopes that prosecutors will reduce their sentences.
Al-Timimi's lawyers also disputed the notion that the men were his followers and contended that he merely suggested migration to a Muslim nation because it might be difficult to practice Islam in the U.S. after Sept. 11.
Finally, the defense contended the prosecution of al-Timimi was an assault on his religious and free-speech rights.
Al-Timini was convicted of charges including soliciting others to levy war against the United States and inducing others to use firearms in violation of federal law. The firearms convictions require mandatory life imprisonment.
Defense lawyer Edward MacMahon said, "Obviously we're disappointed in the verdict. We'll file a motion to set aside the verdict and to request a new trial."
Judge Leonie Brinkema agreed to allow al-Timimi to remain free on bond pending his sentencing in July. Prosecutors had argued that federal law required the judge to immediately revoke bond when convicted of such serious charges, but Brinkema said the law allows her discretion "when there is a reasonable basis for reversal" of the convictions on some counts.
Al-Timimi last year obtained a Ph.D. in computational biology from George Mason University after completing a doctoral dissertation related to cancer research.
He becomes the 10th person convicted in the government's prosecution of what it called a "Virginia jihad network." Two were acquitted.
ON THE NET
U.S. cleric being tried in nation's terror court
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- On the surface, little distinguishes the federal courthouse here from its counterparts across the nation.
The scales of justice, the metal detectors, the federal marshals, even the courtrooms themselves could easily be transplanted into any of scores of U.S. cities.
It's the case docket here that makes the difference.
Over the last four years, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, once known for espionage cases, has become the nation's terror court.
From the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks through Dec. 31, 2003, the district, one of 90 regional federal court districts, handled one-fifth of all terrorism cases in the U.S., a study by a Syracuse University group showed.
The government since has ceased releasing records that allow for such comparisons, but recent events suggest the trend continues. Paul McNulty, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, estimated his office uses 25 to 30 percent of its resources on terror-related cases.
Now, in a case legal experts and civil libertarians are watching, prosecutors are asking a jury to convict Ali Al-Timimi, 41, an American Islamic scholar, of trying to help the Taliban. The defendant maintains his innocence, and his supporters argue the charges are clear evidence of an anti-Muslim bias by the government.
The case raises the issue of when free speech crosses the line and becomes aiding and abetting terrorist activities.
Al-Timimi was known in Muslim circles around the world for his lectures on tape and on the Internet. His supporters point to well-known lectures calling for peace in the wake of the first World Trade Centers attack in 1993.
Prosecutors say he had another side: He was the person immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, who encouraged a group of young Muslims in northern Virginia to go to Afghanistan to train with the Taliban for jihad -- Muslim holy war -- against the United States.
The Pittsburgh connection
Al-Timimi also was listed on the advisory board of Assirat Al-Mustaqueem, an Arabic language magazine published out of Pittsburgh from 1991 to 2000. The magazine called for holy war against Christians and Jews. It also lauded the international army Osama bin Laden assembled for the Taliban in Afghanistan and once praised Shamil Basayev, the Chechen rebel who took credit for last fall's bloody Beslen school massacre in which more than 300 people, many of them children, were killed.
At issue in the two-week case, which goes to the jury as soon as Monday, is whether his comments were simply sentiments of a religious leader exercising his First Amendment rights or a conscious attempt to ignite a homegrown holy war in the shadow of the nation's capital just days after Sept. 11. If convicted, Al-Timimi could face life in prison.
Al-Timimi, 41, of Fairfax, says he is innocent. His supporters argue the case is ridiculous, and for the government to even file charges is evidence of anti-Muslim bias.
The case before Judge Leonie M. Brinkema falls under a law that provides penalties for those who provide "material support" to designated terrorist organizations.
"It's primarily a tool the government uses to break up sleeper cells, to break up al-Qaida and al-Qaida-like organizations," said Jeffrey Addicott, of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio.
"Most of the cases have been against people who've gone to terrorist training camps or written checks to terrorist organizations. The gray area is: How far can you go with speech before it becomes material support?"
Government prosecutors contend Al-Timimi crossed the line.
The terrorism focus
Citing ongoing proceedings, McNulty was reluctant to comment specifically on the Al-Timimi case, but he isn't shy about his office's track record on terrorism.
His staff has increased by about 25 percent over the last three years. The bulk of that increase has gone toward a new terrorism and national security unit, McNulty said.
Although the group has handled its share of high-profile cases, McNulty said it has focused on shutting down financial support for terrorist organizations and prosecuting immigration fraud.
"We have cases involving millions of dollars going to the Middle East. ...We're trying to take that money out of the system," he said.
While cases such as Al-Timimi's were based on investigations in the Eastern District of Virginia, others were directed there by the Justice Department.
McNulty speculated several factors, including the Alexandria court's proximity to the nation's capital, entered into the decisions about where cases are prosecuted.
"We have experienced judges, judges who've seen classified documents and know how to handle touchy issues," he said.
But he conceded appellate court rulings for the government in the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court, which covers the district, may be just as critical as the efficiency and experience of the trial court here.
"I think when the government is looking at cases where they know there will be appellate issues, there is the added attraction here of being in a district where the appellate court is open to the government's position," McNulty said.
Throughout his trial over the last two weeks, defense witnesses said Al-Timimi tried to dissuade the would-be jihadis after learning of their plans, but prosecutors argued otherwise, saying Al-Timimi's speeches, statements and published works promoted holy war.
Prosecutors repeatedly played tapes of lectures in which Al-Timimi condemned the Mideast peace process as a plot to eliminate Islam. He called Christians "our enemy until the Day of Judgment."
Defense attorney Edward MacMahon warned jurors at the start of the trial that some of his client's comments might constitute hate speech. He insisted, however, that those comments were protected under the First Amendment right of free speech and had nothing to do with anyone going to war against the U.S.
Debra Erdley can be reached at [email protected] or 412-320-7996.
Muslim scholar on trial for inciting jihad
By Lisa Myers & the NBC Investigative Unit
April 15, 2005
ALEXANDRIA, Va. - This week, in Virginia, a Muslim religious scholar is on trial — not for committing acts of terror, but for allegedly encouraging others to kill American troops in Afghanistan. It's the first time since 9/11 that a religious figure has been prosecuted for his words. On June 27, 2003, nearly two years before his trial, the controversial religious leader sat down for an exclusive interview with NBC News.
Ali al-Timimi is an American biologist and Islamic spiritual leader.
Prosecutors charge that only days after 9/11, he urged a group of Virginia men to go to terrorist camps in Kashmir and train to fight Americans in Afghanistan. Some men did train and already have been convicted of terrorism charges.
Lisa Myers: Did you ever tell these men to go abroad and join in violent jihad?
Ali al-Timimi: "No. Never."
Myers: Why would someone make all this up about you?
Al-Timimi: "Perhaps certain people in the government, in a zeal to silence outspoken Muslims in North America, have pushed an investigation further than it really should go."
In the wake of 9/11, the case does break new ground.
"It's the first case in which the government has prosecuted a religious leader, as such for, essentially, his speech," says David Cole, a free speech effort at Georgetown University School of Law.
Critics say this prosecution is a troubling incursion on the First Amendment and goes too far. But others contend the case isn't about freedom of speech or religion, but is akin to a Mafia boss ordering a hit.
"It's not an accepted religious or political belief to say, 'Go out and kill somebody,'" says former federal prosecutor Victoria Toensing.
To bolster their claims, prosecutors point to a message al-Timimi wrote to followers in 2003, after the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia saying, "Muslims were overjoyed because of the adversity that befell their greatest enemy."
Al-Timimi: "I thought it was an omen."
Al-Timimi also said he believes the accident suggests Allah was punishing the United States.
Al-Timimi: "To have the space shuttle crash in Palestine, Texas, with a Texas president and an Israeli astronaut, somebody might say there is a divine hand behind it."
When NBC pressed further, al-Timimi's lawyer abruptly ended the interview.
Al-Timimi's defense team emphasizes that no American was ever hurt because of al-Timimi's words. Experts say to get a conviction, prosecutors must prove he intended for his listeners to actually take action against the United States.
Examiner Editorial - Recruiting killers crosses free speech line
The federal conspiracy trial of a D.C.-born Muslim scholar who once worked for White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card is now under way in Alexandria. It's being watched by civil libertarians, but ordinary Americans should pay close attention, too.
Need a scorecard? Out of 11 members of the "Virginia Jihad" - a group of Muslims who allegedly played paintball to train to fight in Afghanistan - six pleaded guilty to reduced federal weapons charges, three were convicted of violating the Neutrality Act by taking up arms against a foreign nation (India), and two were acquitted.
Former Virginia Tech engineering student Muhammad Aatique pleaded guilty and is now serving a 10-year sentence. Much of the government's case against Ali al-Timimi is based on the Pakistani native's account of a meeting in Fairfax five days after Sept. 11, 2001 - when al-Timimi allegedly told attendees to pull down the shades and disconnect the phone before advising them of their religious duty to fight for the Taliban.
Summarizing the case before trial, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema told prospective jurors: "Dr. Ali al-Timimi... says that he only counseled the young men at issue to leave the United States and [migrate] to an Islamic country where they could practice their religion freely."
The fate of the internationally known 41-year-old scholar, a frequent lecturer at Dar al-Arqam Islamic Center in Falls Church, hangs on whether jurors believe he used his "rock star" status to plot acts of terrorism - or was merely exercising his First Amendment rights.
In July 1999, President Clinton declared the looming threats from al-Qaida and the Taliban a national emergency and signed an executive order prohibiting anyone "from making or receiving any contribution of funds, goods, or services to - or for the benefit of - the Taliban," an order extended twice by President Bush.
The 10-count indictment charges that al-Timimi not only used historical examples from Islamic history to justify attacks on civilians and reassure his followers that American troops in Afghanistan were fair game, but also helped arrange their travel to a camp in Pakistan run by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group designated as terrorist by the U.S. government.
Even defense attorney Edward MacMahon admitted that on occasion, some of al-Timimi's commentary "rises to the level of hate speech." Perhaps the counselor was referring to his Feb. 1, 2003, screed celebrating the crash of the space shuttle Columbia or his inflammatory description of Israel as "a nation that God covered with humiliation and deserved God's wrath."
Yet, he argued, al-Timimi "has a First Amendment right to his opinions and his speech" - which presumably includes his contention that 9/11 victims were "combatants, not civilians" because their tax dollars were used to fund the U.S. government's war against terrorists.
OK. But if that's the case, we're all combatants. And following al-Timimi's twisted logic to its conclusion, our own Constitution permits him to remind Islamic jihadists everywhere of their moral obligation to kill us. Isn't the First Amendment supposed to protect us?
So far the courts have only muddied the waters. Last year, a 34-year-old Saudi student in Idaho was acquitted of charges he recruited terrorists and raised money for Hamas by setting up a Web site that posted religious tracts justifying suicide bombings. The judge in the case reminded jurors that while free speech is not absolute, the First Amendment protects "religious" beliefs - "even if those beliefs advocate the use of force or violation of law, unless the speech is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action." Does this mean it's OK to tell your religious followers to blow up a Metro bus - as long as you don't specify when?
We lost the Vietnam War partly because we didn't understand that you can't fight guerillas by conventional means. We won't win the war on terror either if we allow the First Amendment to be hijacked and used against us. Recruiting people to kill Americans clearly crosses the line from speech to action.