NEW BERN, N.C. (AP) — Three men face the possibility of life in prison for joining a North Carolina terrorism ring that federal agents said plotted attacks on the Quantico U.S. Marine Corps base and foreign targets.
Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, Ziyad Yaghi and Hysen Sherifi were convicted after a month-long trial that started around the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Judge Louise Flanagan said her court has received many letters from people who wanted to be heard before sentencing in support of one or all of the men. Their convictions have stirred the Muslim community in the Raleigh area where they lived.
Hassan, Yaghi and Sherifi were part of a group of eight men who federal investigators say raised money, stockpiled weapons and trained in preparation for jihadist attacks against American military targets and others they deemed enemies of Islam.
Defense attorneys for all three men argued for lesser sentences since they were convicted of discussions of terrorism rather than terrorist acts.
"None of the counts of conviction involve any form of actual, physical or mental harm to any other person," Sherifi's defense attorney Robert McAfee said in a court document filed Tuesday. "It is the discretion given to this court that elevates it, and our criminal justice system as a whole, above tribal vengeance or, frankly, Islamist extremism."
Yaghi was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism and conspiracy to carry out attacks overseas. Sherifi was convicted for both crimes, two counts of firearms possession, and conspiracy to kill federal officers or employees by discussing an attack on the Quantico, Va., Marine Corps base with ringleader Daniel Boyd, who had lived on the base as a child with his Marine officer father.
Hassan was found not guilty of conspiracy to carry out attacks overseas but convicted of providing material support to terrorists. In November, Flanagan denied Hassan's request for the judge to override the jury's verdict and find him innocent or else order a new trial.
Hassan and Yaghi were accused of attempting to travel to Israel in 2007 to meet up with Boyd and his sons to carry out an attack. Defense lawyers and relatives said the young men traveled to tour holy sites, stay with relatives and, in Yaghi's case, find a wife.
Defense lawyers for the three men said the government's case amounted to prosecuting young Muslims who did little more than watch jihadist videos on computers and trade "stupid" Facebook posts in support of those fighting Americans overseas.
Boyd, a convert to Islam, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges in February and has yet to be sentenced. Two of his sons pleaded guilty to similar charges and were sentenced to eight years and nine years in prison.
Another defendant, Anes Subasic, is set to be tried separately, while an eighth indicted man is at large and believed to be in Pakistan.