ATLANTA – A 23-year-old accused of using a video camera to scout national landmarks for terror attacks told jurors Tuesday that he never helped terrorists and said comments he made in jihadist online forums were harmless chatter.
Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, who's representing himself during his trial on charges of supporting overseas terrorists, said during closing arguments that video shot during a trip with a friend to Washington was "amateurish and useless."
"We were immature young guys who had imaginations running wild," said Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, who faces up to 60 years in prison. "But I was not then, and am not now, a terrorist."
The federal jury deliberated for about three hours before adjourning for the day. The jury will return Wednesday morning to continue discussing the case.
Authorities say Sadequee helped support terrorism by filming "casing" clips of Washington landmarks and sending some to overseas contacts. They say he was also a ready-and-willing recruit to a Pakistani terror group who traveled to Bangladesh to pursue "violent jihad" and frequently participated in online chat boards used by militants.
Sadequee has said his chatter about jihad was just an attempt to raise his prestige and said Tuesday attempts by prosecutors to link it with a plot was "mindboggling."
He and his suspected accomplices were "teenagers and young men who type faster than they think," he said, not hardened terrorist conspirators who were willing to follow through on the talk.
Prosecutors, however, depicted Sadequee as a dangerous terrorist wannabe who needed to be stopped before he took action. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McBurney said authorities had "overwhelming" evidence that Sadequee took concrete steps to aid terror organizations.
"The goal is to catch a terrorist before he flies a plane into the building, to stop a terrorist before he gets too far," said assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McBurney.
Authorities say Sadequee first sought to join the Taliban in 2001, shortly after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. By 2004, they say he had delved deeper into online forums devoted to supporters of jihad.
That's when they say he met Syed Haris Ahmed, a former Georgia Tech student who was convicted in June on similar charges. They say the two took a bus to Toronto in March 2005 and met with at least three other targets of a federal investigation to discuss possible targets.
A month later, the pair drove Ahmed's pickup truck to Washington to shoot 62 choppy clips of U.S. landmarks such as the U.S. Capitol and lesser-known sites, including a fuel depot and a Masonic Temple in northern Virginia, authorities said.
One of the videos, which was played for jurors last week, showed the two driving by the Pentagon as Sadequee said: "This is where our brothers attacked the Pentagon."
Sadequee sent at least two of the clips to an overseas contact days after he returned, authorities said, disguising them as "jimmy's 13th birthday party" and "volleyball contest."
McBurney told jurors the videos were designed to send a chilling message: "We are in your backyard."
But Sadequee countered that, "Any real terrorist would probably go to Google Earth to see live images."
Sadequee, who is from Virginia, then traveled to Bangladesh in August 2005, where he soon got married. Authorities say he made the trip with a more fiendish mission in mind: To try to link up with terror groups. They also say he communicated with Ahmed and other suspected terrorists.
He is also accused of seeking to help a Pakistan group linked to terror attacks.
Sadequee, who decided at the trial's outset to represent himself, embarked on an often bewildering defense strategy, eliciting testimony from government witnesses about the relationship between Superman and the antichrist and urging FBI witnesses to interpret his e-mail statements.
Wearing a white skullcap that barely contained his curly black hair, Sadequee spoke haltingly throughout his 55-minute closing statement, confessing to jurors that representing himself in federal court proved more difficult than it first seemed.
"It's not as easy as you see in Law & Order," he said.