- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

Prosecutors in Alexandria yesterday opened their case against four U.S. citizens accused of conspiring to aid the Taliban in its fight against the United States, saying the trial is about their intentions and actions, not about Islam.

The men — who live in the Washington area — played paintball together in Northern Virginia. Their games attracted the attention of the federal government.

Bernie Grimm, defense attorney for Masoud Ahmad Khan, the man accused of the most serious crimes, argued that the case is about Islam and that the government is trying to make criminal conduct out of behavior required of devout Muslims.

He said Islam is more than a religion.

“It is a way of life, the tenets of which are not followed casually,” he said. “That faith requires you to always be able to protect yourself, protect your family.”

Gail Gharbieh helped organize the paintball outings, in which as many as 20 men would enter woods and act as if they were at war with each other, shooting special guns with paint-filled bullets that splattered on victims.

“We thought the paintball games would be one way we could get credit,” Mr. Gharbieh said, explaining that to win a struggle, mental or physical, is a goal of jihad, or holy war.

Attorneys for the other defendants said the government is misinterpreting the intentions of the defendants who simply had been playing games and had no intention of harming the United States or engaging in violent jihad.

The government says the four defendants — Mr. Khan, Seifullah Chapman, Hammad Abdur-Raheem and Caliph Basha ibn Abdur-Raheem — played paintball games in 2000 and 2001 for military training to ultimately join a Pakistani terrorist group.

The defendants waived their right to a jury trial, so U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema will decide their guilt or innocence.

Mr. Gharbieh testified that the paintball group would meet in homes or Mr. Chapman’s workplace to watch videos of war battles. A 2-minute segment of one video was shown. Four men in camouflage uniforms surrounded an “enemy” on the ground, kicked him in the head, stepped on his bare hands.

Three times, he rose to his feet, staggered a few steps and fell again. The last time, the other combatants walked away while one fired his rifle repeatedly at the prone man.

Most of the first witnesses yesterday were FBI agents, describing searches of homes of defendants, and recovery of e-mails, guns, holsters and masks.

The guns included a .22-caliber rifle, .45-caliber pistol, 12-gauge shotgun and military assault rifles. Mr. Chapman is a former Marine and helped members enter Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia to use the range.

Mr. Gharbieh testified that they also went to a National Rifle Association range and a couple of other private ranges.

Prosecutors say the intent of men turned hostile toward the United States after the September 11 attacks.

They were charged in June with conspiracy, firearms charges and other crimes. Six others who were indicted have pleaded guilty to various charges, and some have been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.

In his opening statement , prosecutor Gordon Kromberg said that on Sept. 16, 2001, most of the members of the so-called Virginia Jihad Network attended a meeting with Ali al-Timimi, a religious figure Mr. Kromberg said the group respected.

At that meeting, Mr. al-Timimi told the group that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had issued a call for Muslims to defend Afghanistan against a pending U.S. invasion. Mr. al-Timimi also told the group that “this jihad to protect Afghanistan against American invasion is obligatory.”

Defense attorneys argued that Mr. al-Timimi’sspeech was not persuasive for many members of the group.

Defense attorney Christopher Amolsch, representing Caliph Abdur-Raheem, said Mr. al-Timimi’slectures had “what I would consider to be a slightly paranoid tone” and that when he gave the speech, most of the people there looked at him as if he was “nuts.”

After the Sept. 16 meeting, only one of the four, Mr. Khan, traveled to Pakistan. Mr. Kromberg, in his opening statement, acknowledged that two of the defendants, Caliph Abdur-Raheem and Hammad Abdur-Raheem, considered going to Afghanistan, but decided, “to their credit,” against it.

• Staff writer Arlo Wagner contributed to this report.

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