Trial tied to 'jihad' cases
Al-Timimi, prosecutors say, served as a spiritual leader to some Va. group members
BY MATTHEW BARAKAT
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
ALEXANDRIA -- Ali al-Timimi, a Virginia Islamic scholar with an international reputation, admits he counseled other Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks to leave the United States and live in countries where they could more freely practice Islam.
At his trial, which began yesterday with jury selection, prosecutors intend to prove that he did much more, urging followers to go to Afghanistan, join the Taliban and take up arms against U.S. troops.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema gave a brief synopsis of the case yesterday to a jury pool of about 110 men and women before they filled out 25-page questionnaires asking about their views of Islam and American foreign policy, among other things.
The government's case against al-Timimi is closely linked to its earlier prosecution of 11 men that prosecutors said were part of a "Virginia jihad network" -- a group of men who played paintball games in 2000 and 2001 in the woods of Northern Virginia as a means of training for holy war around the globe.
[Northern Virginiastan] While I refer to these men as the "Virginia paintball gang," the paintball issue is a red herring that trivializes the serious charges against these men. For example, Randall Todd "Ismail" Royer, a CAIR official, possessed an AK-47 type rifle and 219 rounds of ammunition (more firepower than police are allowed to carry) when he was stopped by Alexandria police in September 2001 (refer to U.S. v. Randall Todd Royer, et al). In this context, it's particularly revolting that the Chief, Fairfax County Police played host to CAIR.
Randall Todd "Ismail" Royer, CAIR official, sentenced for his role in jihadist activities.
Nine of the 11 people prosecuted in those cases were convicted and received prison sentences ranging from three years to life. Several who struck plea bargains are expected to testify against al-Timimi.
According to prosecutors, al-Timimi, 41, of Fairfax served as a spiritual leader to several members of the Virginia group.
Prosecutors say it was al-Timimi who turned the group's focus against the United States.
At a meeting on Sept. 16, 2001, just days after the terrorist attacks, al-Timimi urged his followers to defend the Taliban regime led by Mullah Omar from a looming U.S. invasion, prosecutors say.
In response, three group members traveled to Pakistan and trained with a militant group called Lashkar-e-Taiba, hoping to put their training to use on behalf of the Taliban, according to the government's case. None actually ever made it to Afghanistan.
Brinkema, in summarizing the case to prospective jurors, offered a brief outline of al-Timimi's defense.
"Dr. Ali al-Timimi denies that he is guilty," she said. "He 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."
At the Virginia jihad trials, witnesses had different recollections of exactly what al-Timimi said at the Sept. 16 meeting, some agreeing with the government's version and others with the defense.
Brinkema's summary also indicated that the defense believes much of the government's evidence is constitutionally protected free speech and that First Amendment issues will be a significant factor in the case.
Al-Timimi's lawyers, Edward MacMahon and Alan Yamamoto, would not comment yesterday. Before trial, they had sought to suppress several pieces of government evidence on free-speech grounds, including an e-mail al-Timimi sent after the fatal Columbia space-shuttle disaster, praising it as a "good omen" of the downfall of Western supremacy.
[Northern Virginiastan] Edward MacMahon of Edward B. MacMahon of Middleburg is also Ahmed Omar Abu Ali's defense lawyer.
Brinkema ruled the e-mail was relevant to show al-Timimi's hostility to America because he is charged with inducing others to levy war against the United States.
Al-Timimi, who recently obtained a doctorate from George Mason University in a field related to cancer research, is a U.S. citizen, born in Washington, D.C. He studied under a prominent Saudi cleric, Safar al-Hawali, who was once close to Osama bin Laden and has been serving as an intermediary between Saudi militants and the government there.
Many of al-Timimi's own speeches and writings are posted on various Islamic Web sites.
Al-Timimi's trial is expected to last up to three weeks, with opening statements tentatively scheduled for Monday.