Friday, August 25, 2006

A federal judge yesterday sentenced a former third-grade teacher at a Muslim school in Maryland to 15 years in prison for providing support to a terrorist organization known as the “Virginia jihad network,” which used paintball games to train for a holy war.

At the sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton, Ali Asad Chandia maintained his innocence and pledged to exact revenge against prosecutors in the afterlife, saying that “those who participated in making my children orphans … should just remember that the day of judgment is on the way.”

Chandia, 29, who taught at the Al-Huda School in College Park, was convicted in June on three counts of providing material support in what prosecutors called a scheme by Islamic extremists to use force to drive India out of the disputed Kashmir territory in South Asia. A federal jury acquitted him of a fourth count of supporting terrorists.

Chandia was the last of 11 convicted “Virginia jihadists” to be sentenced to terms ranging from 46 months to life.

He was found guilty of serving as a driver for Mohammed Ajmal Khan, a senior military leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the U.S. government designated as a terrorist organization in December 2001. He also was convicted for assisting Khan in procuring military equipment for Lashkar and giving safe harbor to Khan during Khan’s visits to the United States in 2002 and 2003.

“Terrorist organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba rely on a network of individuals to carry out their deadly operations,” said U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg in Alexandria.

“Ali Asad Chandia was a member of that network for Lashkar-e-Taiba, and he will now spend a very long period of time in prison for providing material support in furtherance of its violent agenda.”

The original indictment three years ago stated Chandia was among a dozen men who conspired and trained at shooting ranges and elsewhere in Maryland and Virginia with AK-47 assault rifles, other military weapons and equipment, and paintball guns beginning in 2000. Some training, including military tactics, also took place at the Quantico Marine Corps base in Prince William County.

Other Virginia jihad members convicted in the probe were Ali al-Timimi, 40, of Fairfax; Randall Todd Royer, 30, of Falls Church; Ibrahim Ahmed al-Hamdi of Alexandria; Masoud Ahmad Khan, 31, of Gaithersburg; Yong Ki Kwon, 27, of Fairfax; Mohammed Aatique, 30, of Norristown, Pa.; Hammad Abdur-Raheem, 35, of Falls Church; Donald Thomas Surratt, 30, of Suitland; Khwaja Mahmood Hasan, 27, of Alexandria; and Seifullah Chapman, 30, of Alexandria.

Two others, Caliph Basha Ibn Abdur-Raheem, 29, of Arlington, and Sabri Benkhala, 28, of Falls Church, were acquitted at trial.

The 41-count federal grand jury indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in Alexandria in June 2003 accused Chandia and the others of conspiracy to “prepare for and engage in violent jihad” against foreign targets in Kashmir, the Philippines and Chechnya. Nine were identified as U.S. citizens.

Then-U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, whose Alexandria office prosecuted the case, said the men had met, plotted and recruited for violent jihad “right here in this community, 10 miles from Capitol Hill, in the streets of Northern Virginia.”

Mr. McNulty, now deputy attorney general, called the indictments a “stark reminder” that terrorists are active in the United States and seek to exploit America’s freedom to recruit and position themselves for new attacks. He said the Virginia jihadists “secretly plotted in this community and perversely planned and traveled to camps in Pakistan” to carry out the scheme.

Authorities said there was no specific information the men planned any attacks in the United States, although the indictment noted they had “an intent to serve in armed hostility against the United States” and had an Internet photo of the FBI headquarters building in Washington.

Prosecutors said the men, who also trained in St. Louis, attended classes hosted by Al-Timimi, an Islamic lecturer in Fairfax and the son of Iraqi immigrants. He reportedly advised them to go overseas after the September 11 attacks.

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