Jurors Convict Muslim Leader in Terrorism Case
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
A prominent Muslim spiritual leader from Fairfax County was convicted yesterday of inciting his followers to train overseas for violent jihad against the United States.
The jury in U.S. District Court in Alexandria decided that Ali Al-Timimi's words, coming shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, were enough to send him to prison for what prosecutors said will be a mandatory life sentence.
Timimi, 41, who was born and raised in the Washington area and has lectured on Islam around the world, was convicted of inspiring a group of his Northern Virginia followers to attend terrorist training camps abroad and prepare to battle American troops. He was found guilty of all 10 charges against him, including soliciting others to levy war against the United States and contributing services to Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers.
The heart of the government's case against Timimi was a meeting he attended in Fairfax on Sept. 16, 2001 -- five days after the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Timimi told his followers that "the time had come for them to go abroad and join the mujahideen engaged in violent jihad in Afghanistan," according to court papers.
Many of them practiced for jihad by playing paintball in the Virginia countryside, and some left the United States to train at terrorist training camps, but none actually went to Afghanistan and fought against American troops.
The conviction, after seven days of deliberations, reignited a debate that played out in the courtroom over whether Timimi was committing a crime with his often-incendiary rhetoric or was a Muslim scholar exercising his rights to free speech.
"When you've taken no other action but to use words to encourage violence and it's not imminent in the sense that you're inciting a riot at that moment . . . I don't think this country ought to be going in that direction of jurisprudence,'' said Kenneth Anderson, an American University law professor who describes himself as a strong supporter of the Bush administration's efforts against terrorism.
But Ruth Wedgwood, a law professor at Johns Hopkins University and a former federal prosecutor, said Timimi's words could make him as guilty as the people who followed his advice and flew off to the terrorist camps. "If one's demonstrated intention is to procure a violent act, that's not protected speech,'' she said.
Timimi showed no visible reaction as the verdict was read yesterday morning. Prosecutors argued that Timimi, who has been free on bond, should be jailed until he is sentenced July 13. U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, while acknowledging that under "normal circumstances" she would order Timimi into custody, said he could remain free with electronic monitoring. She cited the "second- and third-degree removed nature" of his crimes.
The case against Timimi culminated an investigation in which 11 Muslim men, all but one from the Washington area, were charged with participating in paramilitary training -- including playing paintball -- to prepare for "holy war" abroad. Timimi was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in that case, in which nine men were convicted in 2003 and 2004.
The Justice Department hailed Timimi's conviction and said the investigation had secured more successful prosecutions than any domestic terrorism case since Sept. 11.
"By his treasonous criminal acts, [Timimi] has proven himself to be a kingpin of hate against America and everything we stand for, especially our freedom," said U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty.
Edward B. MacMahon Jr., an attorney for Timimi, said "obviously, we are disappointed with the jury's verdict." He vowed to file motions asking Brinkema to set aside the decision. Timimi, who consulted his attorneys and ate lunch at the courthouse after the verdict, declined to comment.
During the two-week trial, prosecutors said Timimi exerted a strong influence over the other men when he was the primary lecturer at the Center for Islamic Information and Education, also known as Dar Al-Arqam, in Falls Church.
Timimi was accused of approving a plan for group members to prepare for jihad by obtaining military training from Lashkar-i-Taiba, an organization trying to drive India from the disputed region of Kashmir. The U.S. government has labeled Lashkar a terrorist organization. Several of the men then went to a Lashkar camp, court records show.
Several of the defendants from the earlier case testified against Timimi.
In closing arguments last week, prosecutors argued that Timimi's words were dangerous because they were intended to cause violent acts.
"When Tony Soprano says go whack some guy, that's not protected speech,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg.
Defense attorneys argued that the case was about freedom of speech and religion. "All this man has done is exercise the rights all American citizens have," MacMahon said in court. "He has uttered words, folks, mere words."