Alexandria, Va. (AP) — A prominent Islamic scholar was convicted Tuesday of 10 counts alleging he encouraged followers in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks to join the Taliban and fight the United States.
Jurors reached their verdict in their seventh day of deliberations in the trial of Ali al-Timimi.
The 41-year-old defendant showed no reaction to the verdict. He faces a mandatory maximum sentence of life in prison, federal prosecutors said.
Prosecutors have said al-Timimi, a U.S. citizen born in Washington, was a respected scholar who enjoyed “rock star” status among his followers and that he used that influence to guide them into holy war against the United States.
Al-Timimi’s lawyers have said he only counseled young Muslims after Sept. 11 that they might be wise to leave the United States because it would become difficult to practice their faith in this country.
He had been free on $75,000 bail, and U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema allowed him to remain free, with electronic monitoring, until his sentencing in July.
Lawyers for al-Timimi contended the prosecution was an assault on free speech and religious freedom.
“The government wants you to think Islam is your enemy,” defense attorney Edward MacMahon told jurors.
Prosecutors, however, countered that al-Timimi’s speech had no more protection than that of a mobster who orders a gang killing.
The case against al-Timimi was closely linked to the earlier prosecution of 11 men who were allegedly part of a “Virginia jihad network” — a group of men who played paintball games in 2000 and 2001 in the woods of northern Virginia, allegedly as a means of training for holy war around the globe. Nine men were convicted and received prison sentences ranging from three years to life.
The foundation of the charges against al-Timimi was a Sept. 16, 2001, meeting in which he offered an apocalyptic interpretation of the Sept. 11 attacks, which he said heralded the final battle between Muslims and nonbelievers. He said Muslims were obligated to defend Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban regime, prosecutors said.
Three people who attended that meeting later went to Pakistan and received military training from a group called Lashkar-e-Taiba, with the aim of using that training on the Taliban’s behalf.
No one from the group ever made it to Afghanistan, but at least two group members have admitted their goal was to join the Taliban and that al-Timimi inspired them to do so.
Charges against al-Timimi included firearms violations, soliciting others to levy war or conspire to levy war against the United States, inducing others to violate the Neutrality Act, attempting to aid the Taliban, and inducing others to aid the Taliban.
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