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Feds charge 11 men with conspiracy in overseas jihad

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The FBI issued a 41-count indictment against 11 men charged with conspiracy to train for and participate in a violent jihad overseas. CNN's Bob Franken reports (June 27)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI Friday issued a 41-count indictment against 11 men charged with conspiracy to train for and participate in a violent jihad overseas.

"It was part of the conspiracy that the defendants and their conspirators prepared to become mujahedeen and die 'shaheed' -- that is, as martyrs in furtherance of violent jihad," the indictment said.

Nine of the defendants, who are ages 23 to 35, are U.S. citizens, and the others are a Yemeni and a non-resident alien from Pakistan, said Paul McNulty, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

He identified the five men born in this country and arrested Friday morning as: Randall Todd Royer (who goes by the name of Ismail), 30; Masoud Ahmad Khan, 31; Hammad Abdur-Raheem, 35; Donald Thomas Surratt, 30; and Caliph Basha Ibn Abdur-Raheem, 29.

A sixth man, Mohammed Aatique, 30, the Pakistani national and H-1 visa holder, was arrested in the Philadelphia area.

The indictment also charges two men who were already in custody: Ibrahim Ahmed al-Hamdi, the Yemeni national and non-resident alien who was being held on a weapons charge; and Yong Ki Kwon, 27, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in South Korea who was being held on immigration charges.

The remaining three men are believed to be in Saudi Arabia, McNulty said. He identified them as U.S. citizens Sabri Benkhala, 28, and Seifullah Chapman, 30, and Khwaja Mahmood Hasan, 27, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan.

Five of the men had their initial appearances Friday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, before Magistrate Judge Thomas Rawles Jones Jr., who appointed counsel to those who said they had none, and scheduled their next court appearances for next week.

Two of the men had previously been arraigned.

Aatique appeared before a judge in Philadelphia.

"Right here, in this community, 10 miles from Capitol Hill, in the streets of Northern Virginia, American citizens allegedly met and plotted and recruited for violent jihad," McNulty told reporters.

Members of what McNulty called the Virginia Jihad Network allegedly bought and distributed weapons and traveled to Pakistan, where they trained with Lashka-E-Taiba (meaning Army of the Pure), a Kashmiri separatist group designated by the State Department in December 2001 as a terrorist organization.

The Islamic group claims to operate in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kosovo, Bosnia, Kashmir and the Philippines, McNulty said.

India blames the group for numerous deadly attacks against Indians. The group has denied targeting civilians.

The group, referred to by its initials LET, was founded in the mid-1980s "to wage violent jihad in Afghanistan and India," McNulty said.

In 2001, the U.S. State Department designated LET a foreign terrorist organization. The group's recruitment materials included a banner that showed a dagger being driven through the flags of the United States, India, Israel, Russia and Great Britain, he said.

The indictment alleges, among other things, that the men were preparing to take part in military activities against a nation friendly to the United States, that they purchased, transported and received firearms to be used in a felony, used and attempted to use false and altered passports, and provided false statements to law enforcement investigators, McNulty said.

Convictions "could actually result in (prison sentences of) just dozens of years," he said.

Defense attorneys are expected to argue it was not illegal for the men to train at the camps before LET was designated a terrorist organization.

The investigation began in 2000, centered in suburban Washington, and then extended into Fredericksburg, Virginia, Philadelphia, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, McNulty said.

The men received training in the United States and in training camps in Pakistan, he added.

Some of the men allegedly bought weapons, including AK-47-style rifles, in January 2000, to improve their weapons skills, McNulty said.

In April 2000, Royer allegedly entered Pakistan to train with the LET, then traveled to Kashmir, where he participated in actions against Indian military forces, and then returned to the United States.

That fall, Royer and al-Hamdi allegedly recruited followers to join them to become mujahedeen and martyrs, "furthering their violent jihad," McNulty said.

The group of organizers and recruits allegedly met in secret in private homes in the Northern Virginia suburbs and in an Islamic center in Falls Church, Virginia, "to hear lectures and review tapes of mujahedeen engaged in violent jihad," he said.

The lectures were given by cleric Ali Al-Timimi, sources told CNN. Al-Timimi is not charged in the indictment.

Al-Timimi's lawyers have said he "fervently denies any formal or informal charges by the FBI or the Department of Justice that he has in the past supported or currently is supporting terrorism and terrorist activity."

Throughout 2000, the men trained at firing ranges in Virginia and Pennsylvania, McNulty said. Instruction was provided by Surratt, Abdur-Raheem and Chapman, who had U.S. military experience.

To train in small unit military tactics, the men practiced at a paintball war games facility in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, he said.

In all, seven of the men obtained further training with the LET in Pakistan, where they learned to use machine guns, rocket grenade launchers and anti-aircraft guns, he said.

"Anyone who doubts the importance of breaking up this Virginia jihad network underestimates the challenge America faces in its ongoing war against violence and even terrorism," he said.

"When individuals meet here in the shadow of our nation's capital to go prepare for violent action, we will take action," said Alice Fisher, deputy assistant attorney general of the criminal division.

In previous interviews, Royer, a resident of northern Virginia, denied any links to terrorism and said he had not traveled overseas after September 11, 2001.

CNN Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena and Producers Kevin Bohn and Terry Frieden contributed to this story.

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