A federal jury has convicted three Muslim men from North Carolina of plotting to attack unspecified targets overseas, as well as the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., in what prosecutors called a case of "homegrown terrorism."
After two days of deliberations, Omar Aly Hassan, 22, Ziyad Yaghi, 21, and Hysen Sherifi, 24, were convicted Thursday of providing material support for terrorists. Yaghi and Sherifi were also convicted of conspiring to kill, kidnap or maim unspecified people overseas; Hassan was acquitted on the conspiracy charge.
Prosecutors in the three-week trial said the men traveled overseas, raised money and trained with weapons to support a jihadist plot to kill perceived enemies of Islam. Defense lawyers said audio and video recordings played in court did not show the defendants discussing or agreeing to any specific attack.
At issue in the case was the extent to which someone in the U.S. can discuss violent jihad and spread radical propaganda in the post-Sept. 11 era, even while committing no violent acts.
Like many other federal terrorism cases since 2001, the prosecution was preemptive. The suspects were arrested as the terrorist plot unfolded — but before they could commit violence.
The government amassed 750 hours of audio and video that included conversations between the defendants and three paid FBI informants; in those conversations, the defendants discussed jihad and their hatred for non-Muslims.
Friends and family members who attended parts of the trial complained of selective prosecution of Muslims. Hassan's father, Aly Hassan, said after the verdict that the trial had been "a long nightmare."
"Every single witness came out and said they never conspired with my son," Hassan said. "Conspiracy is a very elastic word."
Outside the courtroom, Sherifi's mother shouted, "Racist vultures!"
Mauri Saalakhan, director of an Islamic organization called the Peace Thru Justice Foundation in Silver Spring, Md., who attended parts of the trial, said the convicted men were victims of guilt by association. He called the undercover informants "provocateurs" who entrapped them.
Eight men were indicted in the case in 2009. The accused ringleader, U.S.-born Daniel Boyd, a Muslim convert, testified for the government in a plea deal. So did his sons, Daniel Boyd, 24, and Zakariya Boyd, 21. They are to be sentenced later.
A trial for the seventh defendant, Anes Subasic, has not been scheduled. The eighth defendant, Jude Kenan Mohammad, is a fugitive.
Prosecutors named no targeted victims. Nor did they specify places, times or dates of attacks, except for a potential attack on the Marine base in Quantico. The elder Daniel Boyd had visited the base, and he and Sherifi had discussed its vulnerability to an attack on Marines and their families.
Sherifi was also convicted of conspiring to kill members of the U.S. military and weapons violations.
In court, prosecutors displayed a stockpile of nearly two dozen guns and 27,000 rounds of ammunition seized from a bunker under Daniel Boyd's home; they also played tapes of the defendants praising jihadist publications.
Defense lawyers said the defendants were foolish young men who made "stupid" and offensive comments but committed no crimes.
Hassan and Yaghi are U.S. citizens. Sherifi, a Kosovo native, is a legal permanent U.S. resident. All lived in the Raleigh, N.C., area.
Sentencing is scheduled to take place in 90 days.