Jihadists take note: The insanity defense may not work for you. On Tuesday, Naveed Haq, a self-styled soldier of Islam, was found guilty of aggravated first-degree murder and seven other counts related to a 2006 shooting rampage in Seattle. The prosecution successfully argued that Haq was a jihadi terrorist on a mission for martyrdom; the defense said that just proved he was crazy.
The facts are open and shut. On July 28, 2006, Haq forced his way into the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and opened fire with two semiautomatic pistols, wounding five women and killing campaign director Pamela Waechter. Haq was a methodical killer. When the wounded Ms. Waechter attempted to flee, Haq ran her down and shot her in the head.
Haq explained his jihadist motives in detail after the shooting. He bragged about the killings in prison phone calls to relatives, tapes of which were played during the trial. “I’m proud of what I did,” the murderer told his mother Nahida. “I’m a soldier of Islam.” He said that she should be proud of him. “I’m a martyr now,” he claimed. “I’m going to go to heaven.” His mother argued with him that he was sick, that he was not in his right mind. “Yes I am,” Haq said. “That’s the path I’ve chosen. … I did this for a reason. I wanted to be a martyr. I wanted to die on the battlefield.”
Haq showed evidence of premeditation. He told police he had planned the attack over several days. He chose the Jewish Federation office as his target to make a statement about U.S. policy in the Middle East. He obtained the pistols specifically to conduct the attack and test fired them to see which was easiest to use. A police officer who pulled Haq over for a traffic violation just prior to the shooting found him calm and collected; he was not someone who simply snapped.
Like many terrorists, Haq was seeking publicity. While holding one of his victims at gunpoint, a pregnant woman he had already wounded, the killer told a 911 dispatcher he wanted to be patched through to CNN to - among other things - demand the U.S. military pull out of Iraq.
The legal defense conceded that Haq was the shooter, but contended that a “mental disease or defect” had impaired his ability to know right from wrong, which conforms to the standard for legal insanity in Washington state. Haq is an American born to Pakistani immigrants, had been raised a Muslim but for most of his life had not taken the religion seriously. He even renounced Islam for Christianity briefly before returning to the fold with a vengeance.
Haq’s jihadist orientation was central to the attack, but the prosecution initially downplayed it. At Haq’s first trial in 2008, the jury did not hear the revealing prison phone tapes because prosecutors thought they were irrelevant. The jury in that trial deadlocked over the question of Haq’s intentions, and the judge declared a mistrial. The jury in the second trial heard the tapes, which seemed to have a clarifying effect on the question of intent. Declaring “I’m a soldier of Islam” leaves little to the imagination.
The Haq case has important implications for other domestic terror trials, such as the upcoming court martial of Fort Hood jihadist shooter Nidal Malik Hasan - or even the trial of al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others in New York City. One lesson is that prosecutors should not downplay the jihadist motives behind such attacks. Terrorist ideology is the central framework for this type of violence, and absent that context, jurors may well misunderstand the nature and purpose of these religiously motivated attacks.
Another implication is that the insanity defense may not offer an escape route for terrorists. Violent jihadists may do things that normal people consider crazy, but they are not insane. They know right from wrong, they just think that killing innocents is acceptable behavior. They are clear in their motives; they see themselves as agents of a divine power waging war on the infidel. Given their premises, radical Islamists can justify everything from suicide bombing to Sept. 11-style mass murder.
Ignoring the jihadist impulse as a motive for attack, either because of political correctness or some other rationale, makes the insanity plea more plausible. A jihadist without the jihad is just a crazed killer.