McLEAN, Va. (AP) — An electrician from Woodbridge deserves a 15-year prison sentence for his online efforts to support a Pakistani terrorist organization by producing propaganda videos and trying to recruit others to join, prosecutors say.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled Friday for 24-year-old Jubair Ahmad, who pleaded guilty in December to providing material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani organization that has been blamed for the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people. Earlier this month, in a move that shows American officials’ increasing concern about the organization, the U.S. offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of LET’s founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. He responded by calling a press conference in Pakistan, where he moves openly, and mocking U.S. efforts to capture him.
In court papers arguing for a maximum sentence of 15 years, federal prosecutors at U.S. District Court in Alexandria revealed new details about Ahmad’s efforts on behalf of the organization.
In addition to producing the video at the request of Saeed’s son, Talha Saeed, prosecutors say he completed military training at a Lashkar camp before coming to the United States. He tried to complete its advanced commando training but was rejected for being too young and skinny.
In online conversations, he urged a woman to goad her fiance into attending Lashkar camps, and he tried to get another woman — a graduate student at Seton Hall University — to contribute money to LET.
Ahmad himself spoke numerous times of his wish to die as a martyr.
“Although he conducted his jihad with a computer rather than an AK-47, Ahmad’s criminal actions were nonetheless designed to support LeT’s mission of waging violent jihad against those they consider to be the enemies of Islam,” prosecutors Neil Hammerstrom and John Gibbs wrote.
The defense, meanwhile, is asking for a prison term of only two years. While they acknowledge wrongdoing, the lawyers say that support for Lashkar is common in Ahmad’s homeland.
Lashkar, they argue, is essentially a mainstream entity within Pakistan, one that has tacit government support in the country’s ongoing struggle to gain an upper hand over rival India. Lashkar’s main purpose over the years has been to counter India’s claims over the disputed Kashmir region on the India-Pakistan border.
As a Pakistani native who maintained ties to his home country while living in Virginia, Ahmad saw advocacy for Lashkar as normal and acceptable, the lawyers argued.
“While such discussions are commonplace in Pakistan, Mr. Ahmad’s open discussion of these topics reflects his failure to appreciate potential criminality of doing so in the United States,” wrote Ahmad’s lawyer, public defender Brian Mizer.
The defense argues that supporting Lashkar should not be viewed as harshly as supporting, say, al-Qaida, because Lashkar has never specifically targeted U.S. interests.
The defense also argues that the case exploits a narrow exception in the law that makes a crime what otherwise would be constitutionally protected speech. Had Ahmad made the video on his own, the lawyers argue, he would not have committed a crime. His coordination with Lashkar is what makes his action criminal.
“The fissures in the First Amendment’s freedoms of association and speech are not offered as an excuse for Mr. Ahmad’s criminal conduct. But they are offered as mitigation for a man who was raised to adulthood watching (Lashkar) operate openly and legally in Pakistan and who has little background in American culture much less the evolution of American constitutional law,” Mizer wrote.
Ahmad was born in the Pakistani city of Sialkot, just a few miles from the disputed border with India that has been Lashkar’s primary grievance. When he was three, his family applied for a visa to immigrate to the United States, and it was granted 16 years later. Ahmad moved with his family to the United States in 2007, as a 19-year-old who spoke little english.
His lawyers say he spent much of his free time on the Internet, connecting with fellow Pakistanis in online forums. He found work as an electrician and his work was well-regarded by his employer. His bosses even wrote character letters to the court, saying they plan to hire him back as soon as he regains his freedom.
Ahmad, for his part, wrote a letter apologizing for his conduct, and explaining that he saw the charitable work that Lashkar has done for Pakistani people and believed they are a force for good.
“And when Talha Saeed asked me about video I could not say him no,” Ahmad wrote in handwritten letter composed from jail. “Plus I thought it’s just a video. I did not know that this matter will be that serious.”
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