Thursday , September 25, 2003
WASHINGTON —The ultimate goal of seven men training to join a terrorist jihad (search) in Kashmir was to aid Al Qaeda (search) and the Taliban (search) by battling U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to a federal indictment returned Thursday.
The 32-count superseding indictment by a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., "reveals the true and underlying purpose of the conspiracy, and demonstrates our continuing commitment and resolve to bring all of the conspirators to justice," said U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty.
The seven men, along with four others, had originally faced numerous charges stemming from an alleged plot to join Laskar-e-Tayyaba, an Islamic extremist group seeking to drive India out of Kashmir. Four of the defendants have already pleaded guilty to weapons and other charges.
The new indictment contends that the men planned to train with Laskar-e-Tayyaba and then join Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters against American troops in the Afghanistan war.
The new charges include conspiracy to levy war against the United States, to provide material support to Al Qaeda and to contribute services to the former Taliban-run government in Afghanistan.
"Today's new charges demonstrate that we will pursue cases until all the facts are uncovered," said Christopher Wray, chief of the Justice Department's criminal division.
The indictment alleges that the defendants met in northern Virginia shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to discuss how to obtain training from Laskar-e-Tayyaba so they could fight American troops in Afghanistan.
At the meeting, an unidentified co-conspirator officials say was the group's spiritual leader is quoted as saying that U.S. military forces expected to converge on Afghanistan "would be legitimate targets of violent jihad" and that the men had a religious duty to fight them.
The spiritual leader said that Laskar-e-Tayyaba "was on the correct path" and that one defendant, Randall Todd Royer, could help all the men join the terrorist group in Pakistan.
The men trained with AK-47 (search) weapons in Virginia, Pennsylvania and elsewhere and also practiced military tactics by playing paintball games. Three of the men actually received training and fired weapons at a Laskar-e-Tayyaba camp in Pakistan, according to the indictment.
The men's families and lawyers have portrayed them as peaceful and said they are innocent of terrorism charges. All lived in the suburbs around Washington.
Besides Royer, those charged Thursday are: Masoud Ahmad Khan, a U.S. citizen; Ibrahim Ahmed al-Hamdi, a Yemeni national; Seifullah Chapman, a U.S. citizen; Hammad Abdur-Raheem, a U.S. citizen; Caliph Basha Ibn Abdur-Raheem, a U.S. citizen; and Sabri Benkhala, a U.S. citizen.
Already entering guilty pleas were U.S. citizens Donald Thomas Surratt, Yong Ki Kwon and Khwaja Mahmood Hasan and a Pakistani national, Mohammed Aatique. They are to be sentenced later this year.
An arraignment for the seven men on these new charges was set for Monday in federal court in Alexandria.