PHILADELPHIA – A high school honors student pleaded not guilty Monday to charges he helped the American terrorist dubbed "Jihad Jane" raise money and recruits for a Muslim holy war.
Mohammad Hassan Khalid, 18, of Ellicott City, Md., a Baltimore suburb, entered the plea at his first public court appearance since his July 6 arrest.
The reed-thin, serious-looking young man appeared older than his years. He had no family or friends in the Philadelphia courtroom. His parents, legal U.S. residents from Pakistan who had pushed their four children to excel in school, were working, a defense lawyer said.
Federal prosecutors allege that Khalid tried to recruit men to wage a holy war in Europe and South Asia, and women with passports who could travel there. He had met a middle-aged Pennsylvania woman, Colleen LaRose, in online chat rooms when he was about 15, according to last week's indictment. LaRose was being watched by the FBI after posting YouTube videos in which she dubbed herself "Jihad Jane" and vowed to kill or die for the jihadist cause.
LaRose, 46, has pleaded guilty to plotting to kill a Swedish artist who had offended Muslims, and faces a possible life sentence. Khalid's lawyer, Jeffrey M. Lindy, believes she helped the FBI build its case against the teenager.
"I absolutely think she rolled over in a heartbeat (against him)," Lindy said after the arraignment.
LaRose's public defender did not immediately return a call for comment.
Khalid faces a 15-year prison term and deportation to his native Pakistan if convicted. The indictment issued Thursday charges him along with an Algerian man, 46-year-old Ali Charaf Damache, who remains jailed in Ireland.
Damache, 46, known as "Black Flag," tried to recruit men and women to train with the group known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, prosecutors have said in court papers. The group is an al-Qaida offshoot that has focused its efforts inside Algeria. Damache also hoped to recruit people to train with Pakistan's lead intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, authorities have said.
He is charged with conspiracy to aid terrorists and attempted identity theft to facilitate international terrorism. He does not have a lawyer listed in the U.S. case, and it was not immediately clear if he planned to fight extradition.
Khalid, in his online solicitations, pledged to forward money to LaRose for her to pass on to the jihadists, and allegedly hid a passport she had sent him, authorities said.
"I know the sister and by Allah, all money will be transferred to her. The sister will then transfer the money to the brother via a method that I will not disclose," he wrote in July 2009, according to the LaRose indictment.
Lindy questioned the government's interpretation of Khalid's posts.
"I think they assume a much more nefarious and sinister connotation than what's really there," he said Monday.
U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams declined to comment after the brief hearing. A judge set a Dec. 13 trial date, but that is almost certain to be continued given the complexity of the case.
Lindy did not seek bail for his client on Monday. However, the parties are due back in court on Nov. 16 to consider where the teen should be held. He had been the rare juvenile in federal detention after his arrest, when he was held at a state youth facility in Berks County. However, he turned 18 late last month and has been moved to a federal adult prison. Lindy hopes to investigate other options.
Another U.S. defendant in the LaRose case, 32-year-old Jamie Paulin-Ramirez of Leadville, Colo., married Damache in an Islamic ceremony soon after she arrived in Ireland in 2009 and met him. The marriage was later dissolved, according to her lawyer, Jeremy Ibrahim. Paulin-Ramirez has pleaded guilty to supplying material support to terrrorists.
She is not charged in Thursday's indictment, although authorities say she and Damache "began training Ramirez's minor child in the ways of violent jihad."
Ibrahim said his client, who had been married three times before, was "impressionable and susceptible" when she left Colorado to marry Damache, whom she had met online. Anything she may have done afterward was done because she feared him, the lawyer said.
"(Damache) engaged in conduct that caused her to be in fear both for herself and her son," Ibrahim said.
Both LaRose and Paulin-Ramirez remain in custody. No sentencing dates have been set.
Damache, an Irish citizen, has been in Irish custody on a threat-related charge since March 2010, when police in Waterford detained him, Paulin-Ramirez and five others as they investigated the alleged plot to kill cartoonist Lars Vilks. One of the other defendants has since pleaded guilty to an immigration charge. Paulin-Ramirez was released and returned voluntarily to the U.S. to face charges.