Islamic leader ‘overjoyed’ by shuttle crash

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An Islamic spiritual leader scheduled for arraignment today on charges of counseling others to engage in a holy war against America told followers that he was “overjoyed” by the crash of the space shuttle Columbia, which killed six U.S. astronauts and one Israeli.

According to court records, Ali Al-Timimi, 40, of Fairfax, a primary lecturer at the Dar al Arqam Islamic Center in Falls Church, also known as the Center for Islamic Information and Education, said the Feb. 1, 2003, disintegration of the Columbia as it entered the Earth’s atmospere brought welcome adversity to the United States.

“This morning, the world heard news about the crash of the space shuttle,” Mr. Al-Timimi said, according to a six-count indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. “There is no doubt that Muslims were overjoyed because of the adversity that befell their greatest enemy.

“Upon hearing the news, my heart felt certain good omens that I liked to spread to my brothers,” Mr. Al-Timimi said.

The space shuttle disintegrated 40 miles above the Earth. Debris and human remains were scattered over thousands of square miles in Texas and Louisiana. The seven astronauts were commander Rick Husband; pilot William McCool; payload commander Michael Anderson; mission specialists David Brown, Laurel Clark and Kalpana Chawla, a naturalized U.S. citizen from India; and Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon.

Mr. Al-Timimi, a U.S. citizen, was indicted last week by a federal grand jury in Alexandria on charges of counseling members of the so-called Virginia jihad to wage holy war against the United States. He also was accused of aiding the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, violating the Neutrality Act, using firearms in the furtherance of crimes of violence and counseling others to use firearms and explosives.

He is scheduled for arraignment before U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in Alexandria. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said Mr. Al-Timimi helped members of the Virginia jihad, mostly U.S. citizens, conspire to make war against the United States, supply services to the Taliban, take part in military action against foreign states, and use, carry, possess and discharge firearms and explosives in furtherance of crimes of violence.

The indictment said Mr. Al-Timimi told followers after the shuttle crash that the loss of the Columbia made him “feel good” and that it was a “strong signal that Western supremacy [especially that of America] that began 500 years ago is coming to a quick end … as occurred to the shuttle.”

It said Mr. Al-Timimi, noting that the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations had said Mr. Ramon was carrying all the hopes and ambitions of the Israeli people, told his followers, “All these hopes and ambitions were burnt with the crash and the burning of the shuttle and one of its astronauts, the Israeli.”

It also said Mr. Al-Timimi said because the shuttle crashed near Palestine, Texas, “America will fall and disappear nearby Palestine.”

According to the indictment, within five days of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by 19 al Qaeda terrorists, Mr. Al-Timimi told Virginia jihad members Masoud Ahmad Khan, Randall Todd Royer, Yong Ki Kwon, Mohammed Aatique and Khwaja Hasan to join the mujahideen in Afghanistan,adding that U.S. troops in that country were legitimate targets and that they had a duty to “engage” them.

Mr. Al-Timimi has denied wrongdoing.

Royer, 30, of Falls Church; Kwon, 27, of Fairfax; Aatique, 30, of Norristown, Pa.; and Hasan, 27, of Alexandria, later pled guilty in the case, along with Donald Surratt, 30, of Suitland; and Ibrahim Al-Hamdi, 28, of Alexandria. Khan, 31, of Gaithersburg; Seifullah Chapman, 30, of Alexandria; and Hammad Abdur-Raheem, 35, of Falls Church, were convicted in March of terrorism-related offenses.

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