ATLANTA, Georgia, Aug 21 (IPS) - Following a seven-day trial, Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, 23, was convicted in a U.S. federal court earlier this month on several counts of providing material support to terrorists and the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LET), a designated foreign terrorist organisation.
However, activists and the Sadequee family say that Shifa - Sadequee's nickname - was just a teenager with a vivid imagination who had no real intention of harming the U.S.
In addition to chatting online with friends about "jihad" in radical online forums, Sadequee made amateur videotapes of dozens of Washington, DC-area landmarks.
According to the Justice Department, Sadequee later sent several of the clips to Younis Tsouli, a propagandist and recruiter for al Qaeda in Iraq, and to Aabid Hussein Khan, a facilitator for LET and the Palestinian terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM). Tsouli and Khan have since been convicted of terrorism-related offences in Britain.
Authorities say Sadequee sent an email expressing interest in joining the Taliban in 2001, and he later met with other suspected terrorists, including Syed Harris Ahmed, a former Georgia Tech University student who faces a 15-year-prison sentence.
They charge that Sadequee and Ahmed traveled to Toronto in March 2005 and met with others, including Fahim Ahmed, one of the "Toronto 18" suspects now awaiting a terrorism trial in Canada, to discuss joining LET, allegedly in order to prepare for a violent jihad in the U.S. or abroad.
Sadequee went to Bangladesh in August 2005. Authorities say he continued to communicate with Syed Ahmed as well as other suspected terrorists, including Mirsad Bektasevic, a Balkan-born Swede who was convicted in Bosnia in 2007 of planning to blow up a European target.
Sadaquee was arrested in Bangladesh, according to the Justice Department. However, advocates and relatives say he was kidnapped and tortured, and that he served three years in prison with no trial until this month.
"He faces charges that rely on scant evidence of teenagers chatting back and forth, plans for a website that included translations of previously published scholarly texts, and photos of buildings that were never disseminated or posted," the Free Shifa Committee said in a statement.
Sadequee faces sentencing in October 2009 and could get up to 60 years in federal prison, followed by a term of supervised release up to life, and a one million dollar fine.
"Shifa's statement and cross-examination of the witness, Omar Kamal, asserted that the young men wrote emails, participated in online chats, and visited websites from the ages of 15-19 as a way to make sense of their faith," the statement from Free Shifa said.
"In no way did their activities show the formation of a plan with a defined who, where, when, and what. Shifa said in the opening statements, 'We said a lot about a lot of things,' but 'empty talk' did not amount to conspiracy to provide material support in the form of 'personnel' to terrorist organisations," the group said.
"Sadequee opened with a challenge to the government's limited understanding of the term 'jihad' asserting that the correct interpretation of the term includes details of Islamic law, religious guidelines, and does not mean violence or war. He also presented a challenge to the notion that he and other young men committed 'conspiracy' citing the dictionary that conspiracy includes a plan," Free Shifa said.
"After 9/11 the U.S. government was ready with hundreds of pages of how they were gonna change the law to make it work for them and start a war on terror that had no definitions and no definable end," Stephanie Guilloud, an activist with Project South, said in a video posted on the website, Youtube.
"Eight years later, we're here at a case in Georgia of a 15-year-old who was so angry at that point he didn't know what he do. So he started to find other Islam folks, other folks in his community and his religion to understand what his responsibility was," Guilloud said.
"He's been inside for three years in solitary confinement. The government has pulled out all the stops in the law and in this legal strategy. They have kept and suppressed all evidence of how he was kidnapped in Bangladesh illegally, kidnapped and brought over to this country in order to charge him with these counts," Guilloud said.
"The LET... one of the terrorist organisations that they're accusing him of beginning to intend to start becoming a part of, didn't even exist at the time and also was not registered in the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organisation until... two weeks after Shifa was arrested," Guilloud said.
"These facts are being denied by a Bush-era, Bush-appointed judge... who's running this legal strategy, and suppressing more evidence of even how did they get all this evidence? One of the FBI agents testified today that she wrote emails to Shifa pretending to be his friend so they could trap him into saying whatever, whatever they wanted to charge him with," Guilloud added.
But the U.S. government insisted it is necessary to fight terrorism by preventing would-be terrorists from taking action, and they did not address the claims made by Free Shifa nor Project South in their statement.
"This case [is] a sobering reminder that terrorism and its supporters are not confined to distant battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan," the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia David E. Nahmias said in a statement.
"As recent events further demonstrate, there are still some American citizens willing to take up arms against the United States... In the face of this clear threat, federal law enforcement must and will remain vigilant, seeking to disrupt future terrorist networks before a timer is ticking or a trigger is pulled," he said.
"As we move further away from the tragic events of Sep. 11, 2001, there also seems to be a growing public perception that such conduct is harmless, especially since no bombs were exploded and no one was killed," said Atlanta FBI Special Agent in Charge Gregory Jones.
"This defendant, like many others we have investigated, tried to argue that his criminal conduct and activities were protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The FBI does not buy that argument and today the jury agreed," he said on Aug. 12.
About the author:
Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at email@example.com.