HOUSTON – HOUSTON (AP) — A Pakistani student accused of conspiring to aid the Taliban and undergoing training to fight U.S. troops never intended to commit "battlefield Jihad" or help a terrorist group, his attorney told jurors Monday.
But a prosecutor said during opening statements in the trial of Adnan Babar Mirza that the student collected money for the Taliban and went through weapons training so he could fight U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
Mirza, 33, was one of four men arrested in 2006, accused by authorities of taking part in paramilitary training exercises at camp sites around the Houston area so they could engage in a holy war. He was indicted on nine counts, including conspiracy to help the Taliban and federal charges related to being an illegal immigrant in possession of a firearm.
Prosecutors said Mirza was in the country illegally because he violated his student visa by working.
If convicted, Mirza faces up to 10 years in prison. His trial was to continue through the rest of this week.
Prosecutor Jim McAlister told jurors authorities learned about what Mirza and the other men were doing when one of their friends, James Coates, decided "things were getting out of hand" and became an FBI informant.
"They were training to go overseas and fight in Afghanistan and not for the Americans," McAlister said.
David Adler, Mirza's attorney, denied his client violated his student visa by working and portrayed Mirza as a caring person who collected food for Houston's homeless and promoted Islam and Muslim culture by working with Houston police and through a public access television program.
Adler told jurors Mirza went on camping trips but denied they involved paramilitary training exercises. He accused Coates of being the one who was militant and promoted violence.
An undercover officer taped conversations with Mirza and the other men in which they allegedly talked about ambushing U.S. soldiers and triggering a bomb with a cell phone, according to court documents.
FBI Special Agent John McKinley, the prosecution's first witness, told jurors Mirza can be heard on the taped conversations talking about sending money to support Taliban families. Prosecutors have said Mirza collected about $900 for Taliban fighters and their families.
But Adler said it's not against the law to send money to the families of Taliban fighters and Mirza collected money for hospitals and other groups but not specifically for the Taliban.
He also said Mirza can be heard in these taped conversations expressing anger about injustices Muslims around the world have experienced, but his client was just expressing emotion and didn't intend to act on it.
The three other men who were arrested have pleaded guilty or been convicted.
Kobie Diallo Williams, a U.S. citizen, was sentenced in August to 4 1/2 years in prison for conspiring to join the Taliban and fight against U.S. forces.
Syed Maaz Shah, a former Pakistani engineering student at the University of Texas at Dallas, was sentenced in 2007 to 6 1/2 years in prison on federal firearms charges. Shiraz Syed Qazi, also a Pakistani student and Mirza's cousin, received a 10-month prison sentence in 2007 on a firearms charge.
(This version CORRECTS that prosecutors claim Mirza was in country illegally because he violated his visa by working.)