An Atlanta jury on Wednesday found a 23-year-old man guilty of aiding terrorist groups after a trial that explored a subculture of youthful extremists who used the Internet to plot attacks and form a loose network connecting North America, Europe and South Asia.
Ehsanul Sadequee, the U.S.-born son of Bangladeshi immigrants, faces up to 60 years in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to materially support terrorists. The jury found that he had discussed attacks with accused militants in Toronto and Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Along with another Georgia man convicted in June, Sadequee drove to Washington in 2005 to film the Pentagon and other potential targets, then e-mailed the scouting videos to British citizens who since have been convicted of terrorism charges.
“It’s a good example of how these Islamic extremists across the world connect up and start to organize using the Internet,” David Nahmias, the U.S. attorney in Atlanta, said in a telephone interview. “The Internet is very hard to control, and it is exploited by the bad guys.”
Sadequee worked at an incense shop and a nonprofit agency that aided South Asian victims of domestic violence. During the trial, he acted as his own lawyer, wearing a Muslim skullcap over his curly hair and engaging witnesses in occasionally odd exchanges about Superman and the antichrist. He argued that his Internet conversations about jihad, or holy war, were idle fantasies and noted that he did not attend overseas training camps.
“We were immature young guys who had imaginations running wild,” he said during his closing argument Tuesday. “But I was not then, and am not now, a terrorist.”
The jury heard testimony from Bosnian and British investigators and weighed evidence from six cases that have involved several dozen defendants and years of complex international cooperation. Defendants in those cases have been convicted in Sarajevo, Copenhagen, London and Toledo, Ohio. There also were several acquittals in Copenhagen. A group remains on trial in Toronto, accused of plotting to attack the Canadian Parliament.
Sadequee’s story, according to investigators, showed how the Internet has become an arena of jihad. Without ever meeting face-to-face, online militants can radicalize, hatch plots, exchange funds and help one another reach training camps and battlegrounds.
Born in Virginia, Sadequee exhibited militant sentiments at age 15 while attending an Islamic school in Canada. Soon after Sept. 11, 2001, he sent an e-mail to an extremist website expressing his desire to join the Taliban, Nahmias said.
Sadequee’s extremist activity intensified when he met Syed Ahmed, a Pakistani American student at Georgia Tech, at a mosque in Atlanta. The two made contact in Islamic chat rooms with an extremist constellation including the Toronto group; a Bosnian named Mirsad Bektasevic, who lived in Sweden; and Younis Tsouli, a Moroccan diplomat’s son living in London whose computer expertise made him a hub of the network.
In early 2005, Ahmed and Sadequee took a bus to Toronto and met with suspects there to discuss potential attacks on military bases and oil refineries, as well as traveling to Pakistan to train with militant groups. Weeks later, the two drove to Washington and filmed more than 62 video clips of potential targets, including the Pentagon, the Capitol and World Bank headquarters, according to testimony at trial.
Sadequee used the computer at the Atlanta domestic violence shelter where he worked to send the videos to Tsouli and Aabid Khan of Manchester, England, who recruited others for the Pakistani camps.
Internet communications revealed Sadequee’s enthusiasm for holy war. His first choice was to train with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani group that caters to English-speaking Westerners. Lashkar is suspected in last year’s attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.
But he also talked about going to fight in Iraq and about joining the Afghan Taliban, whose members he referred to as “the Students” in an e-mail presented as evidence.
"[G]et with the Students, man, the Students are back in full force,” he wrote, according to a report compiled by an investigator in a British case.
Sadequee and Ahmed traveled to Bangladesh and Pakistan, respectively, but never underwent training, according to trial testimony. But the U.S. attorney said Sadequee’s extensive contacts with militants and attempts to reach overseas training camps made him potentially dangerous.
“It’s not that easy to get from here to a training camp,” Nahmias said. “They had troubles with visas, passports and money. But the great fear is that what’s easy to do is go down to a gun store, pick your place” and carry out an attack.
Sadequee, who got married in Bangladesh, continued his participation in the global network, according to testimony. In October 2005, he communicated from Bangladesh with Tsouli in London and Bektasevic in Sarajevo as the Bosnian obtained explosives and weapons. They discussed a propaganda video that Bektasevic was preparing that would announce the formation of a group they called Al Qaeda in Northern Europe.
Within days, police arrested Tsouli and Bektasevic, subduing the latter as he assembled a suicide vest attached to a detonator. Both now are serving prison sentences after being convicted on terrorism-related charges.
The FBI tracked down Sadequee in Bangladesh and arrested him in April 2006.
In addition to the evidence against him, the 23-year-old’s performance as his own lawyer in court may have helped seal his fate, said Evan Kohlmann, an expert witness for the prosecution. Sadequee discussed the fine points of holy war and other Islamic concepts with Kohlmann during a lengthy cross-examination.
Sadequee seemed eager to discuss his radical ideas and apparently did not realize that a jury was unlikely to sympathize, said Kohlmann, who also worked as a consultant to investigators in the British trials. “I think he believed he could express these ideas eloquently enough that an American jury could see the light,” Kohlmann said. “But I don’t think there was a light to be seen. He may have convicted himself.”