A New York man lied to U.S. agents about his reasons for traveling to Pakistan to hide his true intention of joining the Taliban or al-Qaeda, a prosecutor told jurors at the end of a trial in Brooklyn.
Abdel Hameed Shehadeh, 23, made the June 2008 trek to wage “violent jihad,” yet later told agents he wanted to attend a religious school, a wedding and an engagement party, according to the prosecutor. Shehadeh is charged with three counts of making false statements about the trip.
“The FBI remained vigilant,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Sarratt said today in closing arguments to jurors. “By doing so, they thwarted the defendant’s plans. The consequences of the defendant’s lies could have been disastrous.”
A New York native from Staten Island, Shehadeh attracted the attention of U.S. authorities when he purchased a one-way ticket to Islamabad, according to court documents. Agents first confronted him at John F. Kennedy International Airport before his plane left and then kept in touch with him regularly for more than two years, according to the documents.
Shehadeh was denied entry in Pakistan and he returned to the U.S. immediately.
After lying repeatedly about the reasons for his trip, Shehadeh later disclosed his true intentions while under the impression that he was acting as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the government alleged. Agent Russ Mochizuki of the FBI testified that Shehadeh was falsely told he was an informant as a “ruse.”
A lawyer for Shehadeh, Frederick Cohn, argued during the trial that his client’s statements about the trip were immaterial and he was convinced he was working for the government.
“He did nothing violent,” Cohn said in his opening statements. “Most of the time he was cooperating with the FBI.”
Jurors began deliberating this afternoon.
The jury of five men and seven women heard testimony from two of Shehadeh’s friends about his motives for the trip and interest in terrorist groups. Jurors were also shown violent messages and images of al-Qaeda leaders from websites Shehadeh ran. One of the sites, www.civiljihad.com, displayed a logo that appeared to drip with blood.
“The defendant created some websites that were full of violent jihadist propaganda,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Solomon in his opening statement.
Before attempting his trip to Pakistan, Shehadeh bought a hiking backpack and searched the Internet for terms such as “Damadola” and “South Waziristan,” which are militant strongholds in the tribal region of Pakistan, Sarratt said. Shehadeh also searched for “Waziristan map,” “Taliban” and names of al-Qaeda operatives, according to Sarratt.
“The defendant knew exactly where he wanted to go and exactly what he wanted to do,” the prosecutor said today.
No witnesses were called on behalf of Shehadeh. For much of the proceeding, he sat next to defense lawyers in khaki jail garb. He wore jail garments even after U.S. District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano advised him he could be given other clothing for the trial.
Along with his flight to Pakistan, Shehadeh made other attempts to fight on behalf of terrorists, prosecutors said.
In October 2008, he tried to join the U.S. Army so he could turn his gun on fellow soldiers on the battlefield, prosecutors said. He was rejected because he failed to disclose the Pakistan trip in his travel history, according to court filings.
That same month, Shehadeh flew to Amman, Jordan, where he was denied entry, according to the documents. He later left New York and was found living in a homeless shelter in Hawaii and working at a RadioShack, Mochizuki testified. Mochizuki said he and other agents interviewed Shehadeh and allowed him to believe he was working as an informant for the government.
The information he provided was “useless,” the agent said.
The FBI agents told Shehadeh he was on the “No Fly” list, which prevented him from making an overseas trek from Maui to Dubai in June 2009, according to court documents. Mochizuki said Shehadeh had asked to become an informant to get off the list.
Cohn, the defense attorney, today told Vitaliano that prosecutors were trying to “terrify the jury” in their closing statement.
“That is the nature of international terrorism,” the judge said.
The case is U.S. v. Shehadeh, 10-cr-01020, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
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