ALEXANDRIA, Va. – One of four defendants charged in an alleged terrorist conspiracy advocated fighting for the Taliban (search) in the days after the Sept. 11 (search) attacks, saying that "cowards and weak ones are the first to run away" when Muslims face attack, according to court testimony Thursday.
Masoud Khan (search) faces the most serious charges of the four on trial in U.S. District Court. Prosecutors say he left the United States for Pakistan just a week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to join a Pakistani terror group that would train him so he could join the Taliban and help repel the pending American invasion of Afghanistan.
Khan, of Gaithersburg, Md., is charged with conspiracy to levy war against the United States and conspiracy to provide material support to Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda (search) terrorist network.
Three other members of what prosecutors have called a "Virginia jihad network" face lesser conspiracy and firearms charges. Prosecutors allege the group used paintball (search) games near Fredericksburg to prepare for holy war against India and other nations with whom the United States is at peace.
Muhammed Aatique, who traveled with Khan to Pakistan and has already pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy, testified that Khan advocated coming to the Taliban's aid at a Sept. 16, 2001, meeting in Virginia.
At the meeting, the men's religious leader, Ali al-Tamimi, sought to rally his followers to a violent holy war against the United States. When one of the group members expressed skepticism about the practicality of joining the Taliban, Khan responded that "when these things happen, cowards and weak ones are the first to run away," according to Aatique.
Aatique, a Pakistani citizen, had already planned a Sept. 19 trip to Pakistan for a family wedding, but al-Timimi's speech inspired him to amend his plans and travel to a training camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group seeking to drive India from the disputed Kashmir region.
Aatique said he now believes that attacking American troops would be wrong, but he had been confused by the paranoid teaching of al-Tamimi, who claimed that the Sept. 11 attacks were justified and a sign that Armageddon between Muslims and infidels was imminent.
Al-Tamimi has not been charged.
Khan's lawyers have said their client, who was born in Pakistan, traveled to the country primarily to attend to family business and that he attended the Lashkar camp only for physical training and self-defense, in accord with Islamic teachings.
Prosecutors also played a tape of a phone call between Aatique and Khan in 2003, after federal agents had raided their respective homes.
A shaken Aatique tells Khan that he told the agents "about everything," including the paintball training and the trip to the camp.
Khan, who advised Aatique that the phone was probably tapped, responded, "What camp? I didn't go to any camp." He then advised Aatique to get a lawyer before speaking again with investigators.