Final 'Paintball Terrorist' Defendant Acquitted

A man was acquitted Tuesday of supplying services to the Taliban (search) and other charges stemming from his alleged role in what prosecutors called a "Virginia jihad network."

Sabri Benkhala was the last of 11 defendants charged last year in an alleged conspiracy to aid terrorists. Prosecutors said the group used paintball games in the woods near Fredericksburg (search) in 2000 and 2001 to prepare for a holy war.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, some members of the group made the United States the focus of their conspiracy and traveled to Pakistan (search) to join a militant group they believed would provide them training to join the Taliban and fight U.S. troops.

Of the 11 charged, six pleaded guilty to various charges and five went to trial. Three were convicted and two, including Benkhala, were acquitted of all charges.

Raw Data: Memorandum Opinion (pdf)

Benkhala, of Falls Church, was the only defendant not charged with the overarching conspiracy. The government alleged he illegally provided services to the Taliban, lied to investigators and used firearms while in Afghanistan. The firearms charge could have carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years.

Benkhala did not testify during the trial, and his lawyer did not put on a defense.

U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty said he was pleased that nine of the 11 pleaded or were found guilty. The three men who were convicted will be sentenced in June, with one facing a mandatory minimum of 90 years.