'Paintball Terrorists' Convicted of Conspiracy

Thursday , March 04, 2004




Three American Muslims accused of using paintball games to train for holy war were found guilty of conspiracy charges on Thursday.

Prosecutors said the three were part of a "Virginia jihad network" that underwent paramilitary training in 2000 and 2001 in hopes of joining up with the Taliban (search). After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the group allegedly focused efforts on defending the former Afghan regime.

Masoud Khan, 34, of Gaithersburg, Md., was convicted of the most serious charges, including conspiracy to levy war against the United States and conspiracy to contribute services to the Taliban.

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Seifullah Chapman, 31, of Alexandria, Va., and Hammad Abdur-Raheem, 35, of Falls Church, Va., were also convicted on conspiracy counts.

In brief remarks on her verdict, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema (search ) said she did not find credible testimony by the two defendants who took the stand. The three waived a jury trial.

Sentencing is scheduled for June.

"These convictions are a stark reminder that terrorist organizations are active in the United States," Attorney General John Ashcroft said. "We will not allow terrorist groups to exploit America's freedoms for their murderous goals. We will not stand by as United States citizens support terrorist causes."

Prosecutors said Khan traveled to Pakistan just days after the Sept. 11 attacks to train with a terrorist group called Lashkar-e-Taiba (search ), and that he planned to use his training alongside the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

Muslim activists held a news conference outside the courthouse to denounce the federal government's treatment of Muslims after Sept. 11. Bernie Grimm, who represented Khan, said the case was the result of "9-11 hysteria."

"If I thought Mr. Khan had any role in aligning himself with Islamic extremists, I never would have represented him," he said. "This has to do with John Ashcroft, with George Bush getting re-elected. ... Today I'm embarrassed to be an American."

Khan did not testify during the four-week trial, but his lawyers said their Pakistani-born client never intended to join the Taliban and traveled to Pakistan to handle legal matters related to his father's death.

Chapman and prosecutors differ on his initial intent in traveling to the Lashkar camp. Prosecutors say he wanted to train for holy war, while Chapman testified that he simply wanted the opportunity for a grueling physical challenge in the rugged Pakistani mountains.

Abdur-Raheem, an Army veteran, never traveled to the Lashkar camp, but the government claims he aided the conspiracy by using his military expertise to train others for holy war during paintball games played in the woods near Fredericksburg. Abdur-Raheem testified that he played paintball for fun and was unaware that any group members considered the paintball games to be training for holy war.

A fourth defendant who had been on trial, Caliph Basha ibn Abdur-Raheem, was acquitted on all charges midway through the trial after Brinkema said she no saw evidence linking him to the conspiracy in any meaningful way.

Six members of the alleged conspiracy have already pleaded guilty to various charges related to the alleged conspiracy. Four were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 4 years to 11 ½ years. Two others pleaded guilty and have yet to be sentenced, but face mandatory minimum sentences of 20 and 15 years.

Five of those who entered guilty pleas testified for the prosecution at trial. Prosecutors could seek to have their sentences reduced if they are deemed to have cooperated with the investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.