Man Indicted Again in Terror Probe

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 23, 2006

Sabri Benkahla was acquitted in March 2004 of being a member of a "Virginia jihad network." Now Benkahla has been indicted again, this time on charges that he lied when he told a grand jury that he had never attended a terrorist training camp.

Benkahla was arraigned yesterday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on perjury and obstruction of justice counts. The Falls Church man pleaded not guilty.

John Keats, an attorney for Benkahla, called the new charges "a sour grapes indictment. The reason they are coming back is because they lost the earlier case. It's absolutely sour grapes.''

Federal prosecutors in Alexandria declined to comment.

A federal judge acquitted Benkahla two years ago of supplying services to Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers and of firing weapons while in that country. U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said prosecutors had shown that Benkahla was "very interested in violent jihad" and had attended a terrorist camp in 1999 but that they had not proved the camp was in Afghanistan. That would have made it a crime under a law that prohibited U.S. citizens from aiding the Taliban.

Later in 2004, prosecutors wrote in the new indictment, Benkahla told a federal grand jury that he had not attended a terrorist camp at all. His denial hindered the grand jury's investigation into who was being trained in weapons and explosives at camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, prosecutors said.

The original charges against Benkahla were part of a highly publicized case in which a group of men, all but one from the Washington suburbs, were accused of preparing for jihad, or holy war, abroad by playing paintball and firing weapons in the Virginia countryside. Prosecutors called the group the "Virginia jihad network.''

According to the indictment, the grand jury was investigating whether Benkahla and others had "participated in a jihad training camp and/or combat in July 1999 and fired automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades" in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Benkahla denied attending a camp or firing an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons, which prosecutors said was a lie. The indictment did not explain how prosecutors intended to prove that Benkahla was lying.

The Justice Department has hailed the jihad network case as an important blow against domestic-based terror groups. Nine of the 11 men originally charged were convicted; Benkahla and another man were acquitted. The group's spiritual leader, Ali Al-Timimi, was convicted last year and sentenced to life in prison.

If convicted of the new charges, Benkahla faces up to 20 years in prison. His trial is scheduled for June 7.

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