Muslim scholar sentenced to life for call for holy war

His followers played paintball to train to fight Americans abroad

Washington — A man convicted for statements that prosecutors said incited his followers to train for violent jihad against the United States was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday in a federal courtroom in Alexandria, Va.

In an impassioned speech before the sentencing, Ali Timimi, a prominent Muslim spiritual leader, asserted his innocence, read the preamble to the U.S. Constitution and said his religious beliefs do not recognize “secular law.” He then compared himself to the Greek philosopher Socrates, who was sentenced to death for corrupting the young and dishonoring the gods of Athens.

“I will not admit guilt nor seek the court’s mercy,” Timimi told a courtroom crowded with his supporters and prosecutors. “Socrates was mercifully given a cup of hemlock. I was handed a life sentence.”

Although U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema called the punishment “very draconian,” she said she had no choice under congressionally mandated minimum sentencing requirements. She criticized Timimi, 41, for his role in inspiring his followers to attend terrorist training camps abroad.

“I don’t think any well-read person can doubt the truth that terrorist camps are an essential part of the new terrorism that is perpetrated in the world today,” she said. “People of goodwill need to do whatever they can to stop that.”

The contentious hearing reflected the passions surrounding the prosecution of Timimi. He was convicted in April, primarily for his pronouncements to his followers in a case that some experts said raised First Amendment issues but prosecutors called a major victory in the war on terrorism.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg said Timimi “deserves every day of the time he will serve. … Timimi hates the United States and calls for its destruction. He is allowed to do that in this country. He is not allowed to solicit treason.”

Defense attorney Edward B. MacMahon Jr. said prosecutors had targeted Muslims since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “The local Muslim community is not a group of terrorists who need to be watched every moment by the FBI,” said MacMahon, who accused Kromberg of using Timimi’s religion to convince jurors that he was “the most dangerous man in the United States.”

The Timimi case culminated an investigation in which 11 Muslim men 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 the earlier case, in which nine men were convicted in 2003 and 2004.

Federal prosecutors have said the investigation secured more successful prosecutions than any domestic terrorism case since Sept. 11.

Timimi, who was born and raised in the Washington area and has lectured on Islam around the world, was charged last year with 10 counts, including soliciting others to wage war against the United States and contributing services to Afghanistan’s former Taliban rulers. After seven days of deliberation, a federal jury convicted him on all 10 counts.

Prosecutors said Timimi — the former primary lecturer at the Center for Islamic Information and Education, also known as Dar Al-Arqam, in Falls Church, Va. — was a revered figure to the Muslim men convicted in the earlier case.

The heart of the government’s evidence against Timimi was a meeting he attended in Fairfax on Sept. 16, 2001, five days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Timimi told his followers that “the time had come for them to go abroad and join the mujaheddin engaged in violent jihad in Afghanistan,” according to court papers.

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The Washington Post, via, USA
July 14, 2005
Jerry Markon, Washington Post

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday July 14, 2005.
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