Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A prominent Islamic scholar was convicted of exhorting his followers in the days after the September 11 attacks to join the Taliban and fight U.S. troops.

The convictions yesterday against Ali al-Timimi, 41, of Fairfax, carry a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison without parole.

After seven days of deliberations, the jury convicted al-Timimi on all 10 counts brought by the federal government, including soliciting others to levy war against the United States, inducing others to aid the Taliban and inducing others to use firearms in violation of federal law.

The firearms convictions require mandatory life imprisonment.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema freed al-Timimi on bond until his sentencing in July and left open the possibility that she will toss out some of the counts.

Al-Timimi, who had been free on $75,000 bond during his trial, will be electronically monitored until his sentencing.

Prosecutors said al-Timimi — a native U.S. citizen who has an international following in some Muslim circles — enjoyed “rock star” status among a group of young Muslim men in Northern Virginia who played paintball games in 2000 and 2001 as a means of training for holy war around the globe.

On Sept. 16, 2001, al-Timimi addressed a small group of followers in a secret meeting at a Fairfax home and warned that September 11 was a harbinger of a final apocalyptic battle between Muslims and nonbelievers. He said they were required as Muslims to defend the Taliban and its leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, from a looming U.S. invasion, the government said.

Although none of them joined the Taliban, four of al-Timimi’s followers subsequently traveled to Pakistan in late September 2001 and trained with a militant group called Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Three of them testified at al-Timimi’s trial that their intention had been to use the training they received from Lashkar to join the Taliban and fight in Afghanistan and that it was al-Timimi’s speech that inspired them to do so.

The three who testified against al-Timimi had reached plea bargains with the government, and the defense contended that they were lying in the hopes that prosecutors will agree to reduce their prison sentences.

Al-Timimi’s attorneys disputed the notion that the men were his “followers” and contended that he merely suggested migration to a Muslim nation because it might be difficult to practice Islam in the United States after the attacks.

The defense also contended that leaders in the paintball group had been urging members to train with Lashkar-e-Taiba well before September 11 and well before the government cited any misconduct by al-Timimi.

Finally, defense attorneys had contended that the prosecution of al-Timimi was an assault on his religious and free-speech rights. Prosecutors introduced evidence of anti-American speeches and commentary by al-Timimi, which they said was relevant to show his motivation to incite war against the United States.

The evidence included a 2003 e-mail in which al-Timimi described the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster as “a good omen” that “Western supremacy [especially that of America] that began 500 years ago is coming to an end, God willing.”

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