A New York man who flew to Pakistan allegedly to join the Taliban or al-Qaeda was found guilty of lying to U.S. agents about the reasons for his trip.
A federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, convicted Abdel Hameed Shehadeh, 23, today of three counts of making false statements. Jurors found terrorism was involved in two of the instances.
Prosecutors alleged that Shehadeh’s objective for the journey was to wage “violent jihad” while he later told agents he had intended to attend a religious school, a wedding and an engagement party.
Shehadeh was denied entry into Pakistan when he arrived in June 2008 and immediately returned. Federal agents kept in contact with Shehadeh for more than two years after the event, at one time leading him to believe, falsely, that he was working as a government informant.
A lawyer for Shehadeh, Frederick Cohn, argued during the trial that his client was manipulated and that any statements he made about his trip were immaterial.
The jury “took a great deal of time and more care than I expected” in reaching its decision, Cohn said to reporters after the verdict was read. The jury of five men and seven women began deliberating March 22.
Shehadeh faces a maximum sentence of 21 years in prison.
During the trial, which lasted about a week, witnesses testifying for the prosecution included law enforcement agents and two of Shehadeh’s friends who described his interest in violent jihad.
“As you heard, the defendant wanted to go and be a martyr,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Sarratt told jurors in closing arguments on March 22.
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 checked in with him regularly.
After his failed trip to Pakistan, Shehadeh made other attempts to fight on behalf of terrorist groups, a federal agent told jurors during the trial. He tried flying to Amman, Jordan, where he was denied entry, and bought tickets to Dubai, which he couldn’t use because he had been placed on the “No Fly” list, the government said.
Prosecutors alleged that Shehadeh also attempted to join the U.S. Army so he could turn his gun on fellow soldiers in the battlefield. He was rejected because he failed to disclose the Pakistan trip in his travel history, according to court filings.
During the trial, jurors were shown violent messages and images of al-Qaeda leaders from websites Shehadeh ran that the government was also investigating. One of the sites, www.civiljihad.com, displayed a logo that appeared to drip with blood.
No witnesses were called on behalf of Shehadeh. For much of the proceeding, he sat calmly next to his lawyers in khaki jail attire, which he chose to wear even after U.S. District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano said he could have other clothing given to him for the trial.
His face showed no reaction when the verdict was read.
“He’s a realist,” Cohn said after the verdict, commenting on his client’s demeanor. “He knew from the beginning that this was going to be difficult.”
The case is U.S. v. Shehadeh, 10-cr-01020, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
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