Islamic fundamentalist gets Life sentence
- Read in particular Al-Timimi's own statement towards the end of the
Life sentence for Islamic fundamentalist Al-Timimi:
an attack on free speech
By John Andrews
27 July 2005
On July 13, Dr. Ali Al-Timimi, a scientist and Islamic fundamentalist
preacher, was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 70 years
on charges that he urged Muslim followers in the week following the
September 11 terrorist attacks to leave the United States and support
Islamic military efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine,
Indonesia and Russia.
Al-Timimi denied that he made any such appeal. His defense was that he
only counseled Muslims that it might be wise to leave the United
States because practicing Islam in America would be difficult after
September 11, and that they should relocate in an Islamic country
where they could freely practice their religion.
US-born Al-Timimi, 42, has been well known for years within certain
Islamic circles for his lectures on the fundamentalist "salafi" form
of Sunni Islam at the Center for Islamic Information and
Educationalso known as the Dar al Arqam Islamic Centerin Falls
A professional scientist who has lived most his life in the
Washington, DC area, Al-Timimi has undergraduate degrees in biology
and computer science and a doctorate in computational biology from
George Mason University. He has published or coauthored at least 12
scientific articles, including pioneering work using computers to
measure and analyze the presence of genes in various forms of cancer,
and worked as a researcher for SRA International, a major information
technology company and US government contractor.
The charges against him arise from a private September 16, 2001 dinner
he attended at the home of one of his followers. He is accused of
urging the other Muslim men in attendance to travel overseas for what
one prosecution witness called "violent jihad." He was not alleged to
have been involved with planning or carrying out any terrorist act.
There was no evidence at trial that Al-Timimi actually undertook any
actions to facilitate the men leaving the United States to join
Islamic military movements. He did not arrange any financing or
provide contacts overseas, for example.
Indeed, the evidence at trial established that the three men who
eventually did leave the United States to join Pakistanis fighting
against Indian forces over the disputed Kashmir region began planning
their trip before the September 16 dinner.
The 10 counts against Al-Timimi consist of inducing others to conspire
to use firearms and carry explosives, soliciting others to make war
against the United States, attempting to contribute services to the
Taliban, and inducing others to violate the Neutrality Act by taking
part in military expeditions against countries with whom the United
States is at peace.
Al-Timimi went on trial on April 4, 2005 in federal district court in
Alexandria, Virginia. On April 26, the jury returned guilty verdicts
on all counts.
The most serious charge was that Al-Timimi urged the others to engage
in combat against US troops. The United States never declared war
against Afghanistan, however, and the September 16 meeting preceded
not only the US invasion itself, but also President Bush's signing of
the congressional resolution authorizing military action against
Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks.
US District Judge Leonie Brinkema herself called the life sentence
"very draconian." It was mandated by federal guidelines, however, once
she denied all Al-Timimi's post-trial motions to set aside the
verdicts on the basis that they were not supported by the evidence and
violated his First Amendment rights.
The case began when US government prosecutors in June of 2003 indicted
11 young Muslim men on charges of conspiring to travel to Pakistan to
wage war against India. The group was commonly referred to as the
"Virginia Jihad Network," or simply, the "Virginia 11." After the FBI
claimed that many of them played "paintball" together in the Virginia
woods to train for combat, the 11 were derided as the "paintball
jihadists" in local media reports.
None of the men made it to Afghanistan or engaged in any combat
against US troops or their allies. Nevertheless, they were prosecuted
with a vengeance. Six of the 11 defendants pled to lesser charges
early this year, their sentences ranging from two to twenty years. Of
the five who went to trial, three were convicted and face prison
sentences of up to 90 years. Two were acquitted.
Although Al-Timimi was not charged in their indictment, he was named
as an unindicted coconspirator and identified as the group's spiritual
leader. Over a year later, the government indicted Al-Timimi on
separate charges. After Al-Timimi rejected an offer to plead guilty in
exchange for a sentence of 14 years, the case proceeded to trial.
The trial itself exhibited all the features of a witch-hunt. There
were no victims. There was no claim that anyone involved with
Al-Timimi actually perpetrated a specific crime or planned a terrorist
act. The principal witnesses were alleged coconspirators pressured
into plea deals granting sentence reductions in exchange for testimony.
The heart of the case was the dinner on September 16, 2001 attended by
nine of the eleven "Virginia Jihadists" at which Al-Timimi supposedly
solicited them to leave the United States and fight with Muslim forces
in places such as Afghanistan, Chechnya, Palestine, Pakistan and
Indonesia. Five days later, three of those at the meeting traveled to
Pakistan, where they obtained two weeks of military training from
Lashkar-e-Taiba, an organization seeking to drive India from Kashmir.
Lashkar-e-Taiba was not at the time designated by the US as a
The most damaging witness at trial was Yong Kee Kwon, a Korean-born
convert to Islam and the host of the September 16 dinner. On direct
examination he testified that Al-Timimi said that each man present
should "repent," leave the United States and "try to join the
mujahideen." Another witness at the meeting, Aatique Gharbieh,
testified that Al-Timimi said "the battle in Afghanistan is imminent"
and, although the Taliban "have problems in how they interpret or
implement Islam . . . we should help them." A third witness, Mahmood
Hasan, said Al-Timimi announced, "Mullah Omar has called upon the
Muslims to defend Afghanistan." There was little else of substance in
the evidence against Al-Timimi.
To bolster their case, the government prosecutors appealed openly to
the fears and prejudices of the jurors with inflammatory and
irrelevant evidence. For example, they played excerpts from videotapes
depicting combat in various war zones found in searches of residences
of the "Virginia Jihadists." One, entitled "Russian Hell 2000," which
depicted the execution of a captive soldier in Chechnya, was
supposedly particularly fascinating to Kwon. Yet all the witnesses
testified that Al-Timimi was not aware of their watching the videos.
The prosecution made liberal use of Islamic doctrine and Al-Timimi's
teachings to paint him as a co-thinker of Osama bin Laden and
therefore complicit in the attacks on the World Trade Center and
Pentagon. The jury heard from a lecture given in 1990, before the
first Gulf War, in which Al-Timimi attacked Shiites for "always
unit[ing] themselves with enemies" while "the swords of the Sunni
Muslims are dripping with the blood of Christians, Jews and idol
worshipers and Allah has commanded us to make jihad against the
enemies of Allah." He added that "in an Islamic state" Shiite "heads
should be lopped off."
Judge Brinkema allowed the prosecutors to read an email allegedly sent
by Al-Timimi on the morning of the Columbia shuttle catastrophe,
February 1, 2003, long after all the alleged acts for which he was
charged criminally. The email stated, "[T]here is no doubt that
Muslims were overjoyed because of the adversity that befell their
greatest enemy," and it called the disaster a "good omen."
The racism which pervaded the Al-Timimi prosecution was epitomized at
very end of closing arguments. Assistant United States Attorney Gordon
Kromberg told the jury, "If you're a kafir [a non-Muslim] Timimi
believes in time of war he's supposed to lie to you. Don't fall for
it. Find himfind Sheik Ali Timimiguilty as charged."
Al-Timimi's nationalist and religious obscurantist views, while deeply
reactionary, clearly fall within the parameters of constitutionally
protected free speech. The prosecution's use of such evidence to
stampede a jury into convicting him of multiple felonies flies in the
face of the First Amendment.
Al-Timimi waged a two-part defense. First, his lawyer claimed the
witnesses against his client should not be believed because they were
pressured into incriminating him in exchange for leniency in their own
cases, and, second, he argued that the statements of the prosecution
witnesses were contradictory and incomplete.
In the unsuccessful post-trial challenge to the verdict, defense
attorneys argued that Al-Timimi's alleged statements at the September
16 dinner were protected speech because they were not inciting
"imminent" violent actsthe listeners would have had to agree with
Al-Timimi, make their way overseas, join Muslim military outfits, and
engage in combat before any breach of the peace would have occurred.
Before sentence was pronounced, Al-Timimi read a 10-minute statement
declaring his innocence and accusing the government of a frame-up. He
recited the preamble to the Constitution, claiming that he committed
it to memory "long before I was taught or learnt any passage of the
Koran." Focusing on the Constitution's professed aim of creating "a
more perfect union" to "establish justice," Al-Timimi pointed out the
hollowness of the case against him.
"Let us recall the crimes to which I was charged: advocating treason,
soliciting war against the United States, providing aid and comfort to
the enemy, conspiring to levy war against Israel, Russia, India, and
Indonesia, and, of course, at every turn, the informal charge of
"Charges I must say `abounding in crudities and absurdities.'
(Al-Timimi here quoted Aaron Burr, the one-time US vice president who
was tried and acquitted for treason.)
"For to accept these charges we must believe that a solitary man who
would spend his days working full-time at one of Fortune magazine's
one hundred best companies and then spend his evenings and weekends
engaged in cancer research for a doctorate in computational biology,
an individual who never owned or used a gun, never traveled to a
military camp, never set foot in a country in which a war was taking
place, never raised money for any violent organization would becould
bethe author of so much harm."
Al-Timimi concluded his remarks with a clear warning about the
implications of his case for democratic rights. "For if my conviction
is to stand, it would mean that 230 years of America's tradition of
protecting the individual from the tyrannies and whims of the
sovereign will have come to an end. And that which is exploited today
to persecute a single member of a minority will most assuredly come
back to haunt the majority tomorrow."
Under house arrest until sentencing, Al-Timimi is now in the custody
of the US Bureau of Prisons. His appeal will be heard by the United
States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the most right-wing
court in the nation. If the appellate court confirms the convictions,
his only redress will be an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Aside from the personal injustice to Al-Timimi, the trial and life
sentence are a stark warning of the extremes to which the US
government is prepared to go in attacking constitutionally protected
rights of free speech and political expression, under the cover of the
"war on terrorism."
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