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'Virginia jihad' members found guilty

From Kevin Bohn and Terry Frieden

A group of muslims led by Muhammad Adam Alshaikh prays outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.
A group of muslims led by Muhammad Adam Alshaikh prays outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

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A group of Muslims the U.S. called 'the Virginia Jihad' is convicted of providing support for terrorism. CNN's Kelli Arena reports (March 4)
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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Three men charged with being part of what the government has called the "Virginia jihad network" and who allegedly trained to support terrorists were found guilty Thursday of the most serious charges facing them.

Masoud Khan, Seifullah Chapman and Hammad Abdur-Raheem were found guilty by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema on charges of supporting terrorism and specifically, of providing material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group fighting against India for the independence of the disputed region Kashmir.

They will be sentenced in June.

Brinkema delivered the verdicts after the defendants last month waived a jury trial, saying they did not believe they could get a fair trial from members of the public.

The judge found the three men not guilty of various firearms violations, and found Khan not guilty of conspiracy to provide support to al Qaeda.

"This is a what I consider to be a split decision in a very complex case," Brinkema told a packed courtroom, filled with community supporters for the defendants. "My opinion runs 75 pages in length and is a record for this court. ...

"It is a sad case because I believe that these defendants may be good family members and obviously have lots of friends, but the reality is that the government has established the offenses."

In June the three defendants on trial and eight other men, all Muslims who had attended lectures about Islam in recent years, were charged with participating in a conspiracy to help the Lashkar-e-Taiba group.

Six of the others earlier pleaded guilty to various charges. Caliph Basha Abdur-Raheem, who had gone on trial with the three defendants, was found not guilty February 20. The remaining defendants will go on trial next week.

Prosecutors have alleged part of the training included participation in paintball games in 2000 and 2001 in the northern Virginia area. Some of the defendants had denied the paintball was connected with terrorism.

"We have denied this, everyone has denied this. There is not proof of this. We're just playing a game, OK," Hammad Abdur-Raheem told CNN in an interview in June before he was arrested.

Khan was facing the most serious charges, including conspiracy to levy war against the United States, conspiracy to provide material support to al Qaeda and conspiracy to contribute services to the Taliban. Prosecutors have alleged Khan, who had traveled after the September 11 attacks to Pakistan to train with Lashkar-e-Taiba, eventually wanted to go to Afghanistan and attack U.S. forces there.

Khan did not testify during the trial. Chapman testified about traveling to Pakistan to train with Lashkar-e-Taiba but said there was no terrorism motive to the trip.

"I could not find the testimony of two of the defendants credible," Brinkema said. "It showed a blindness, which the law does not permit. Some witnesses saw what was going on, realized what was happening. Some other defendants sensed the problem and withdrew."

In a statement issued after the verdicts, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said, "These convictions are a stark reminder that terrorist organizations are active in the United States. We will not allow terrorist groups to exploit America's freedoms for their murderous goals. We will not stand by as United States citizens support terrorist causes."

In the same written statement, U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty of the Eastern District of Virginia, said, "This case is a significant step forward in securing our community and our country."

Lashkar-e-Taiba, or "Army of the Pure," has ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network, the statement said. It was founded in the mid-1980s to wage violent jihad in Afghanistan and India, and has espoused waging violent jihad against the United States, Britain, Russia and Israel, it said.

The group was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department in December 2001.

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