ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A lecturer at a northern Virginia mosque who allegedly urged some of his followers after the Sept. 11 attacks to join the Taliban and fight U.S. troops was charged Thursday with attempting to aid the Taliban and other crimes.
If convicted of the six-count indictment returned Thursday by a federal grand jury, Ali Al-Timimi, 40, of Fairfax, could be sentenced to life in prison.
Prosecutors have said Al-Timimi was the spiritual leader of a “Virginia jihad network” of young Muslim men–nearly all of them U.S. citizens living in metropolitan Washington, D.C.–who played paintball games in 2000 and 2001 as a means of training for holy war across the globe.
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On Sept. 16, 2001, just five days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Al-Timimi held a meeting in which he told his followers they were obliged as Muslims to defend the Taliban against imminent U.S. attack, according to prosecutors and some of those who attended the meeting.
Shortly after Al-Timimi made his appeal, four group members traveled to Pakistan and trained with a militant group called Lashkar-e-Taiba, hoping that the training would allow them to fight alongside the Taliban.
No group members actually made it to Afghanistan.
“While bodies were still being pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and while America was mourning the loss of over 3,000 people, the defendant counseled young men to bear arms against the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty. “Today’s charges are a major step forward in holding this leader accountable for his dangerous actions against America.”
Eleven members of the so-called jihad network have already been tried; six entered plea bargains and received sentences ranging from four years to 20 years in prison. Two were acquitted of all charges, and three others were found guilty–Masoud Khan, one of those who traveled to Pakistan at Al-Timimi’s urging, was sentenced to life plus 65 years; Seifullah Chapman, who traveled to Pakistan prior to Al-Timimi’s Sept. 16, 2001 meeting, received 85 years in prison, and Hammad Abdur-Raheem, who never went to Pakistan, was sentenced to eight years in prison.
The sentences imposed against Khan and Chapman are among the longest obtained by the government in post-Sept. 11 terrorism-related cases.
According to court documents, Al-Timimi said at the Sept. 16, 2001 meeting that the Sept. 11 attacks heralded the “final battle between Islam and the infidels as foretold in the Koran.”
In addition to Khan, who never admitted wrongdoing, three others at the Sept. 16 meeting traveled to Pakistan and the Lashkar camp. All three struck plea bargains and admitted their goal was to join the Taliban and fight U.S. troops.
The indictment also alleges that Al-Timimi sent an e-mail to supporters following the space shuttle Columbia disaster in February 2003 suggesting it was “a good omen” that “Western supremacy (especially that of America) that began 500 years ago is coming to an end, God willing.”
Al-Timimi is scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 1. In addition to a charge of attempting to aid the Taliban, Ali was charged with conspiracy–specifically, conspiring to counsel others to levy war against the United States, and aiding and abetting use of firearms in a crime of violence.
His lawyer could not be reached for comment Thursday. In a written statement last year, Al-Timimi denied that the men facing charges were his students and said he could not imagine that he ever discussed military training with them.
“If anything I have probably swerved Muslim youth away from the more extremist elements in the Muslim community,” Al-Timimi said.