Opening statements begin in Islamic State trial in Phoenix

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Prosecutors opened their case Wednesday against a man they portrayed as an Islamic State follower and the driving force behind a plot to attack an anti-Islam cartoon contest last year, calling him the leader of a team "set on mass murder."

Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem, a 44-year-old owner of a moving company, is believed to be the first person to stand trial in the U.S. on charges related to Islamic State. He is charged with helping plan a violent attack last year at Prophet Muhammed cartoon contest in Texas in which two associates were killed after they showed up at the event with semiautomatic rifles and an Islamic State flag.

Prosecutor Kristen Brook portrayed Kareem as being obsessed with Islamic State as it began a global terrorism menace last year, going so far as to indoctrinate a child in his neighborhood by showing him Internet videos of the group's militants burning a Jordanian pilot in a cage. She said he was instrumental in helping Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi in their thwarted attack on the cartoon contest before the pair was killed by an officer.

"The defendant was the bankroller, trainer and motivator in the plot," she told the jury.

Kareem's lawyer rejected the government's characterization of him being the driver of the attack. Daniel Maynard said Kareen had no knowledge that Simpson and Soofi were going to Texas to carry out an attack.

"This is an overactive imagination for the government," he said.

The U.S. government began its case against Kareem by explaining to the jury the origins and methods of Islamic State and describing how he became an avid follower in early 2015. She said Kareem, Simpson and Soofi watched terrorism videos, beheadings and Islamic State propaganda clips, and had a reverence for anything coming from Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical cleric killed in a CIA drone strike in 2011.

She said they originally wanted to acquire explosives to blow up the stadium hosting the 2015 Super Bowl and a nearby shopping center. When that plan failed to materialize, they set their sights on the cartoon contest in Garland, Texas. Brook cited tweets by Simpson in which he posted a photo of al-Awlaki and said "when will they ever learn," after learning of more prizes available at the contest.

Kareem faces charges including conspiracy to support Islamic State. Brook said he knew Simpson and Soofi were followers of Islamic State but still helped them carry out the attack, including buying weapons and showing them how to shoot and clean the guns.

"The defendant was the third man on a team set on mass murder." she said. "Two were killed one remains."

The courtroom has become a new front against Islamic State as the government attempts to crack down on followers of the terrorist organization.

The U.S. government has charged 78 people with crimes related to the Islamic State group since March 2014, said Karen J. Greenberg, director of the Fordham Law School's Center on National Security, which tracks terrorism cases. While 24 people charged with crimes related to the radical group have pleaded guilty, no one has yet gone to trial on such charges.