Two U.S. citizens who shot videos of U.S. landmarks in the Washington, D.C. area for potential terrorist attacks have been sentenced in Atlanta.
On December 14, 2009, a U.S. District Judge in Georgia sentenced Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, 23, to 17 years in prison and Syed Haris Ahmed, 24, to 13 years in prison. Sadequee, a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi descent from Virginia, was found guilty in August 2009 of providing and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and to a designated foreign terrorist organization, while Ahmed, a naturalized American citizen born in Pakistan and raised in Georgia, was found guilty the previous June of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. Both men used the Internet to develop relationships with other extremists in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and elsewhere.
In late 2004, Sadequee and Ahmed, a former student at Georgia Tech, traveled to a rural area in northwest Georgia for basic paramilitary training, which included shooting paintball guns and practicing other attack techniques, according to the FBI. The following March, Sadequee and Ahmed met with several members of a purported terror cell in Toronto to brainstorm potential targets for attacks in the U.S. and ways to disrupt the world-wide Global Positioning System (GPS), according to the indictment. During the Toronto trip, the men also discussed plans to attend terrorist training camps in Pakistan.
A month later, Sadequee and Ahmed discussed a possible attack on a U.S. air reserve base near Atlanta and shot several casing videos of targets for "potential terrorist attacks" in the Washington, D.C. area, including the U.S. Capitol, the World Bank Headquarters, a Masonic Temple and a group of large fuel storage tanks, according to the Department of Justice. The videos were made to "establish their credentials with other violent jihad supporters as well as for use in violent jihad propaganda and planning," according to court documents.
Sadequee allegedly sent these videos to Younis Tsouli, a.k.a. Irhabi007, who is currently serving 16 years in prison in London for inciting violence on terrorist Web sites. The men also sent the videos to Aabid Hussein Khan, a British man sentenced to 12 years in prison for distributing terrorist related materials online and encouraging some of his contacts to train in Pakistan with the terrorist groups Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba. According to the Department of Justice, Sadequee and Khan used At-Tibyan Publications, Khan's members-only Web site that posted English translations of Al Qaeda and other terrorist-related materials, to recruit at least two individuals to participate in "violent jihad."
In July 2005, Ahmed traveled to Pakistan, where he met with Khan, to study at a religious school, attend a terrorist training camp and join Lashkar-e-Taiba, according to the indictment. After returning to Atlanta, Ahmed expressed regret at his failure to join the terrorists in Pakistan in a conversation with Zubair Ahmed, a Chicago resident who pleaded guilty in January 2009 to conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.
The day before Syed Haris Ahmed returned to the U.S., Sadequee left Atlanta for Bangladesh. Hidden in the lining of his suitcase, according to the Department of Justice, was an encrypted CD, a map of Washington, D.C. – which included all the locations he and Ahmed had cased – and a paper with Khan's mobile number in Pakistan.
The Department of Justice alleges that, while in Bangladesh, Sadequee allegedly conspired with Tsouli and Mirsad Bektasevic, a Swedish national of Serbian origins, to form a Swedish-based organization they called "Al Qaeda in Northern Europe." In October 2005, Sadequee attempted to obtain a visa allowing him to relocate to Sweden. Bektasevic, who had acquired silencers and explosives for the group, was arrested in Sarajevo that same month. He has since been convicted of terrorism offenses in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The FBI arrested Ahmed in Atlanta in March 2006. Prior to his arrest, Ahmed warned Sadequee, who was still in Bangladesh, not to return to the U.S. The following month, Sadequee, who had previously attempted to join the Taliban to fight against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, was arrested in Bangladesh and handed over to the FBI.
Ahmed waived his right to a jury trial in order to deliver closing arguments in court. During his 45-minute speech, Ahmed reportedly read nine verses from the Qur'an in Arabic and discussed the linguistic similarities between Hebrew and Arabic. Ahmed also reportedly spoke of the shared beliefs of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Representing himself at his August 2009 trial, Sadequee reportedly explained that he and Ahmed were "immature young guys who had imaginations running wild. But I was not then, and am not now, a terrorist." When pressed about the casing videos, he responded that "any real terrorist would probably go to Google Earth to see live images."
Sadequee faced a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison, while Ahmed faced up to 15 years in prison.