By MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press Writer ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The government’s prosecution of a prominent Islamic scholar accused of recruiting for the Taliban in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks is an assault on religious freedom, a defense lawyer said Monday during the trial’s closing arguments. “The government wants you to think Islam is your enemy,” said Edward MacMahon, who represents Ali al-Timimi, 41, of Fairfax. “They want you to dislike him so much because of what he said that you’ll ignore the lack of evidence.” Prosecutors, on the other hand, said al-Timimi is on trial not because of unpopular political or religious views but because he specifically urged his followers to take up arms against U.S. troops just five days after the 9-11 attacks, and because several of them traveled half way around the world with just that intent. “When Tony Soprano says ‘Go whack that guy,’ it’s not protected speech,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg, drawing a comparison between al-Timimi and the fictional mob boss. Al-Timimi, a native-born U.S. citizen who has an international reputation in some Islamic circles, is facing a 10-count indictment that includes charges of soliciting others to levy war against the United States and attempting to aid the Taliban. The jury began deliberations Monday afternoon after hearing two weeks of testimony. If convicted, al-Timimi faces up to life in prison. The government contends that al-Timimi told his followers during a secret meeting on Sept. 16, 2001, that they were obliged as Muslims to defend the Taliban against a looming U.S. invasion. Just days after that meeting, four of those in attendance flew to Pakistan and joined a militant group called Lashkar-e-Taiba. Three of the four testified at al-Timimi’s trial that their goal had been to obtain military training at the Lashkar camp and then cross the border to Afghanistan and join the Taliban. It was al-Timimi who inspired them to do so, the men testified. None Of The Men Actually Made It To Afghanistan. Kromberg said at the trial’s outset that al-Timimi enjoyed “rock star” status among his followers. On Monday he said al-Timimi knew that the men at the Sept. 16 meeting–many of whom had played paintball games in 2000 and 2001 as a means to train for holy war around the globe–would do as he instructed them. “These guys couldn’t figure out how to tie their shoelaces without al-Timimi,” Kromberg said. But MacMahon said that al-Timimi merely counseled the men to leave the United States because it might be difficult to practice their religion in America in a post-Sept. 11 environment. The three men who testified against al-Timimi at trial, he said, are all lying because they struck plea bargains with the government and are hoping to get their sentences reduced in exchange for helping the government. MacMahon said it was two other men, Yong Ki Kwon and Randall Royer, who were the ones recruiting paintball members to join Lashkar-e-Taiba. Kwon, for instance, admitted that he and Royer had met a LET recruiter in the spring of 2001 on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Kwon also acknowledged that Royer had previously trained in Pakistan with Lashkar and that he had frequently encouraged others to join LET well before Sept. 11 and well before the government alleges al-Timimi’s criminal conduct. MacMahon pointed out to jurors that Kwon–one of the four who allegedly traveled to Pakistan at al-Timimi’s urging–had placed 25 phone calls to the other three in the three days before al-Timimi allegedly made his first exhortation on the Taliban’s behalf. The government’s case, MacMahon said, is built on a misperception that Islam is a sinister religion and its practitioners deserve strict scrutiny. “Are you appalled that the federal government is reading the Quran to you” at this trial? MacMahon asked the jurors. The prosecution of al-Timimi “is a fundamental assault on the liberties we all hold so dear. … If you don’t believe our freedoms are under attack by this prosecution, you haven’t been sitting here.” Kromberg disputed the notion that the government was casting aspersions on all Muslims. “Ali Timimi does not speak for all Muslims. Ali Timimi speaks for his sect of Salafi Muslims,” Kromberg said, referring to a sect of the religion often equated to Wahhabism, a puritanical form of Islam practiced by many of the leading clerics in Saudi Arabia, where al-Timimi once studied.
By Rosie Cowan, Steven Morris and Richard Norton-Taylor A British would-be suicide bomber yesterday admitted plotting to blow up a packed passenger plane in midair with an explosive device hidden in his shoe. Saajid Badat, 25, agreed to board and destroy an American-bound flight from Europe, three months after the 9/11 hijackers killed thousands in New York and Washington. But four days after he was given the deadly device in December 2001, he had a change of heart and backed out of the mission. However, he kept the bomb and police discovered its components, plastic explosive, a fuse and a crucial piece of evidence – detonating cord matching that found on convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid – when they raided Badat’s family home in Gloucester almost two years later, in November 2003. Traces of explosive were also found in his locker at the Blackburn mosque where he studied. Badat’s conviction marks the first admission of guilt by a British terrorist plotting an al-Qaida-style suicide atrocity. He originally denied the charges and was due to stand trial. But in a surprise change of plea at the Old Bailey yesterday, he admitted conspiring with Reid, who was jailed for trying to bomb a Paris to Miami flight in December 2001, and Nizar Trabelsi, who is in prison in Belgium for trying to bomb a Nato air base there. He will be sentenced on March 18. Scotland Yard said Badat had little choice but to plead guilty given the overwhelming evidence against him, the result of a three-year inquiry spanning 15 countries, and intensive surveillance by MI5 and anti-terrorist officers. Peter Clarke, Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner and head of the Met’s anti-terrorist branch, said: “This is a very important conviction, the culmination of a painstaking investigation lasting three years. It is a tremendous example of cooperation between international agencies and those in the UK. “Today’s conviction demonstrates the reality of the threat we are facing. Badat had agreed to blow up a passenger aircraft from Europe to the United States and was prepared to kill himself and hundreds of innocent people.” Intelligence officials and po lice chiefs are also concerned at how such a respectable young man was motivated to contemplate such a ruthless attack that they have asked the cabinet secretary, Andrew Turnbull, to examine how terrorists attract middle-class British Muslims. “We must ask how a young British man was transformed from an intelligent, articulate person who was well respected, into a person who has pleaded guilty to one of the most serious crimes you can think of,” said Mr Clarke. But Badat’s shy, softly spoken demeanour hid a dark secret. Detectives and intelligence sources believe Badat and Reid, a criminal from a broken home, met in terror training camps in Afghanistan, where Badat spent two years, significantly longer than most European-based operatives. It was there, anti-terrorist sources say, that Badat “underwent some form of radicalisation”. Reid and Badat no doubt bonded over common experiences and both were provided with almost identical bombs, destined to cause mayhem. In the end, Badat was not prepared to commit suicide, a reluctance intelligence agencies have discerned among other suspected terrorists they have monitored. The security services made the link between the three men when they established that Badat had used Belgian phone cards, found on Reid at the time of his arrest, to contact Trabelsi. Richard Horwell, prosecuting, said Badat had undergone terror training in camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he was given the bomb. He came back to the UK on December 10 2001. But four days later he sent an email “indicating he might withdraw” and he did not take the flight he had booked from Manchester to Amsterdam, from where he intended to fly on to the US with the bomb. Mr Horwell said Badat confessed on his way to the police station after his arrest. Bearded and wearing a grey sweater, the defendant spoke only to confirm his name and plead guilty during yesterday’s 15-minute hearing. In Gloucester, family and friends were in shock. His parents, Mohammed and Zubeida, moved to the city from Malawi around 30 years ago. Mr Badat worked in an ice-cream factory in Gloucester before he retired through ill health. Badat, one of four children, attended St James Church of England primary school, a minute’s walk from the family home. He attended the boys’ grammar school, the Crypt, where he gained 10 O-levels and four A-levels, in physics, chemistry, biology and general studies, before going to university. David Lamper, the Crypt’s headmaster, said: “He was a popular and diligent pupil.” After university he travelled abroad, ostensibly to study Islam. Friends said he visited Pakistan, India and the Middle East. During one of his returns to the UK he enrolled to study at an Islamic college in Blackburn. He met a young woman in Lancashire and friends said they intended to marry. When he visited Gloucester he attended the two local mosques and was seen as a rising star. One man who knew Badat through the mosques said: “He was one of the most saintly men I had ever met. He was a scholar who had studied our religion so devoutly that he could quote much of the Koran’s teachings word for word. “He was a quiet, reserved, respectful and sober man – you could never have imagined him as a terrorist in a million years. He respected people of all faiths and colours.”