- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2009

ATLANTA | Armed with a hand-held video camera, a college student drove with a friend in April 2005 to Washington and captured scenes of the Capitol, the Pentagon and other locations.

Investigators say Syed Haris Ahmed, now 24, wasn’t a tourist but a wannabe terrorist who wanted to send the videos of potential terrorism targets to an overseas contact. He was attending the Georgia Institute of Technology at the time.

The charges, along with an allegation that Mr. Ahmed went to Pakistan and tried to join a terrorism group a few months later, are central to a federal terrorism case against him that is set to begin Monday.

His attorney, Jack Martin, contends the federal charges are little more than “imprudent talk” and that investigators have no evidence that Mr. Ahmed, who was born in Pakistan, has committed any terrorist act.

U.S. Attorney David Nahmias, however, considers it one of his most important cases since he took charge of the office in 2004 and contends Mr. Ahmed was at the center of a plot to carry out “violent jihad” against civilian and government targets in Washington and Georgia.

Mr. Ahmed and his friend Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, both U.S. citizens who grew up in the Atlanta area, have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Mr. Sadequee’s trial is scheduled to begin in August.

Federal authorities said they began to build the case after the pair took a bus to Toronto in March 2005 and met with at least three other targets of an FBI investigation. Authorities say they brainstormed strikes against targets that ranged from military bases to oil refineries and included a plot to disrupt the Global Positioning System satellite network.

A few months later, authorities say, they drove Mr. Ahmed’s pickup truck to Washington where they made the “casing” videos of the Capitol, the World Bank, a Masonic temple and a fuel depot. And they were accused of discussing an attack against Dobbins Air Reserve Base in suburban Atlanta.

Authorities also said they have evidence of more than just talk.

The two were accused of receiving “rudimentary paramilitary training” in northern Georgia in late 2004 and early 2005. And officials said Mr. Ahmed traveled to Pakistan in July 2005 to seek out Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group linked with attacks in the disputed state of Kashmir.

Mr. Nahmias has said there is no evidence the two posed an immediate threat to the United States, but stressed that their path could eventually have led to violence.

And prosecutors contend in the affidavit the efforts were conducted “in purported defense of Muslims or retaliation for acts committed against Muslims in the United States and in foreign nations.”

In court papers, Mr. Martin has accused investigators of preying on Mr. Ahmed’s devotion to Islam to coax a confession and then reneging on a promise not to arrest him if he told the truth.

Mr. Martin also has cast doubt on whether prosecutors have enough evidence for a conviction. While the indictment discusses meetings, conversations and training exercises, nowhere does it say the two men obtained or tried to obtain weapons or explosives to commit terrorism.

“The case is more about talk,” Mr. Martin said after a hearing.

The trial is expected to last about a week, and at the end, the federal judge will likely hear directly from Mr. Ahmed. The suspect waived his right to a jury trial last month specifically because he wants to make a public statement.

“I consider the opportunity to give the statement more important than anything to me right now,” he said at a recent hearing.

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