Federal prosecutors in Alexandria unveiled terrorism charges against a Maryland man yesterday, alleging that Ali Asad Chandia helped a foreign terrorist group acquire an electronic autopilot system and video equipment for use on model airplanes.
Chandia, 28, of College Park, is also accused of shipping 50,000 paint balls to the group, Lashkar-i-Taiba, which the U.S. government has designated as a terrorist organization. The group runs terrorist camps in Pakistan and claims to have trained thousands of Islamic "holy warrior" mujahideen to fight in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo and the Philippines.
The charges against Chandia, a legal permanent resident who emigrated from Pakistan in 1994, are an outgrowth of the "Virginia jihad network" case, in which nine Muslim men have been convicted over the past two years of training overseas for holy war against the United States. The training also included playing paint ball in the Virginia countryside.
Some of the defendants attended terrorist camps in Pakistan run by Lashkar-i-Taiba.
The indictment accuses Chandia of traveling to a Lashkar office in Lahore, Pakistan, in November 2001, shortly after resigning from his job at a Costco store. "I have to leave now due to some family emergency," Chandia is alleged to have written to his supervisor at the time.
In Pakistan, he worked with other defendants to help a top Lashkar official, Mohammed Ajmal Khan, obtain equipment for the group, prosecutors allege. Khan, a British national who is jailed there on terrorism counts, was also named in the four-count indictment unsealed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
The equipment allegedly included 50,000 paint balls and components of an MP1000SYS system, which the indictment describes as an "electronic automatic pilot system" that can be installed on a small, remote-controlled airplane using Global Positioning System cordinates.
Some of the equipment was sent by two California companies to Khan's address in England, but it was unclear if any was used by Lashkar -- or if any was intended for use in the United States.
Prosecutors would not comment beyond the indictment, which charges Chandia and Khan with providing, and conspiring to provide, material support to Lashkar-i-Taiba. If convicted, they each face up to 15 years in prison.
Federal officials arrested Chandia on Thursday night at his home in Maryland. Wearing an orange T-shirt, khakis and sneakers, he appeared briefly yesterday in federal court in Alexandria and was ordered jailed pending a detention hearing Tuesday.
His attorney, Marvin Miller, described him as a studious man and University of Maryland graduate who has written articles on both Islam and Jesus Christ. His mother and his wife, who both sat watching in the courtroom, said Chandia is a teacher at a Muslim school.
"This is a molehill case, and the government is going to have to make a mountain out of it,'' Miller said.
Miller said the remote-controlled airplanes -- which the indictment says can have military uses -- "don't have big ranges, certainly nothing like the drones with the satellite systems the U.S. military has.''
But the indictment paints a different portrait of Chandia, saying that a 2003 search of his Maryland home found books, tapes and videos supporting "violent jihad," including one by a Lashkar leader titled "Jihad is the best defence for oppressed Muslims.''
Court documents also describe Chandia as the former "personal assistant" of Ali Al-Timimi, the convicted spiritual leader of the men who trained for jihad. In 2000 and 2001, the indictment says, Chandia helped Timimi with speaking engagements, typing and "research on Islamic subjects.''
Timimi was convicted this year by a federal jury of inciting his followers to attend terrorist camps abroad and prepare to battle U.S. troops. He was sentenced to life in prison in July.
Prosecutors said Timimi exerted a strong influence over the other defendants when he was the primary lecturer at the Center for Islamic Information and Education, also known as Dar Al-Arqam, in Falls Church.
Eleven Muslim men, all but one from the Washington area, were charged in 2003 with participating in paramilitary training -- including playing paint ball -- to prepare for "holy war" abroad. Two of the men were acquitted.
Chandia offered to cooperate against the other defendants but only in return for immunity from prosecution, Miller said yesterday. He said the government declined the offer.