Saturday, June 28, 2003

FBI agents have arrested eight men in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania in a suspected scheme by Islamic extremists to engage in “holy jihad” to drive India out of the disputed Kashmir territory in South Asia.

The men, along with three others, were named in a 41-count federal grand jury indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in Alexandria accusing them of conspiracy to “prepare for and engage in violent jihad” against foreign targets in Kashmir, the Philippines and Chechnya. Nine of the 11 were identified as U.S. citizens.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty, whose Alexandria office investigated the case, said the men are believed to be members of an extremist Muslim group known as Lashkar-e-Taiba, listed by the State Department in 2001 as a terrorist organization.

“Right here in this community, 10 miles from Capitol Hill, in the streets of Northern Virginia, American citizens met, plotted and recruited for violent jihad,” Mr. McNulty said during a press conference. “It is alleged this group purchased and distributed weapons and ammunition in pursuit of violent jihad.

“These indictments are a stark reminder that terrorist organizations of various allegiances are active in the United States and these groups exploit America’s freedom as a weapon to recruit and position themselves on our shores, in our society,” he said.

Mr. McNulty said members of the group “secretly plotted in this community and perversely planned and traveled to camps in Pakistan” to carry out the scheme.

Kashmir is a disputed border area claimed by both India and Pakistan.

FBI agents took six of the men into custody yesterday after early-morning raids at their homes in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Two others already were in custody. At least a dozen homes were searched during the raids, authorities said, and agents confiscated an assortment of weapons, ammunition and high-powered scopes, along with several unidentified documents.

The men were identified as Randall Todd Royer, 30, of Falls Church; Yemeni national Ibrahim Ahmed al-Hamdi of Alexandria; Masoud Ahmad Khan, 31, of Gaithersburg; naturalized U.S. citizen Yong Ki Kwon, 27, of Fairfax; Pakistani national Mohammed Aatique, 30, of Norristown, Pa.; Hammad Abdur-Raheem, 35, of Falls Church; Donald Thomas Surratt, 30, of Suitland; and Caliph Basha Ibn Abdur-Raheem, 29, of Arlington.

Three others — Khwaja Mahmood Hasan, 27, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen who lived in Alexandria; Sabri Benkhala, 28; and Seifullah Chapman, 30, also of Alexandria — are believed to be in Saudi Arabia.

The men also are charged with violating the Neutrality Act, a federal law banning persons from leaving the country to attack other countries with which the United States is at peace.

Authorities said there was no specific information that the men had 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 that one had an Internet photo of the FBI headquarters building in Washington.

Search warrants in the probe sought “materials relating to any kind of military-style training, jihad, violence against the United States, support of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and/or any other terrorist group.” They also authorized the seizure of literature concerning Lashkar-e-Taiba.

One of the homes searched was that of Muslim scholar Ali al-Timimi, an Islamic lecturer in Fairfax and the son of Iraqi immigrants. The men had attended lectures by Mr. al-Timimi, who was not arrested, authorities said. He reportedly advised them to go overseas after the September 11 attacks.

The indictment, unsealed yesterday, said the men conspired and trained at various shooting ranges and other locations in Maryland and Virginia with AK-47 assault rifles, other military weapons and equipment, and paintball guns from early 2000 through May for possible military action in Kashmir. Other training, including in military tactics, also took place in St. Louis, the indictment said.

Another training site, according to the indictment, was the Quantico Marine Corps base in Prince William County. Three of the men — Hammad Abdur-Raheem, Mr. Surratt and Mr. Chapman — are former U.S. military personnel who reportedly assisted in training the others.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, which means “army of the righteous,” is the armed wing of the Pakistan-based religious organization Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad, a Sunni anti-U.S. missionary organization formed in 1989 and led by Abdul Wahid Kashmiri. It is one of the three largest and best-trained groups fighting in Kashmir against Indian rule.

The organization has conducted a number of terrorist operations against Indian troops and civilian targets in Kashmir since 1993, including recent attacks on an airport, police station and Indian border-security forces that left at least 17 dead.

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