A federal judge in Atlanta on Monday sentenced two Muslim Americans to lengthy prison terms for conspiring to aid and abet terror organizations, including the Pakistani group suspected of helping to carry out the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
U.S. District Judge William S. Duffey Jr. told American-born defendant Ehsanul Islam Sadequee that his conduct had determined his fate, not the Muslim faith he professed or his rejection of America's government, culture and system of laws.
"This is not about your faith. This is about your conduct," Duffey said as he sentenced Sadequee to 17 years in prison for conspiring, attempting to and then providing material support to terrorists. "This is about the rule of law ... that you have announced does not apply to you."
The Internet prohibition followed testimony at the trials of Sadequee and his co-defendant, former Georgia Tech student Syed Haris Ahmed, that identified the duo's forays into Internet chat rooms where they corresponded with self-proclaimed jihadists. Both defendants argued during their trials that their Internet conversations about jihad were idle, harmless chat and that these conversations were constitutionally protected speech.
But Duffey rejected that defense, telling Sadequee that he was misusing the tenets of his faith "to justify in your mind the crimes you have committed" and that he had taken advantage of U.S. laws and the Constitution's free speech protections "to advance your self-interest and your distorted view of the world."
Federal prosecutors had asked for a 20-year prison sentence, and federal sentencing guidelines that include special enhancements for crimes associated with terrorism would have permitted Duffey to hand down a sentence of as much as 60 years. Duffey also forbade Sadequee from accessing the Internet during 30 years of supervised probation that will follow his prison sentence.
In a separate hearing on Monday afternoon, Duffey sentenced Ahmed to 13 years for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. Prosecutors had asked for 15 years. Calling Sadequee's conduct "calculating and dangerous and cunning," Duffey observed that over the course of the case -- which included the trials last summer of Sadequee and Ahmed -- "The risk you and others like you present was troublingly obvious."
Duffey made his comments Monday morning, after allowing Sadequee -- who had earlier notified the court that he wanted to represent himself at sentencing -- to make an hour-long statement, partly in Arabic and partly in English, that was a sermon on his Muslim faith.
Sadequee stood when delivering his colloquy to the court, but refused to stand when Duffey sentenced him, telling the judge, "Mankind rises for God. We cannot stand before men."
Both Sadequee and Ahmed, who were appointed counsel by the government after their 2006 arrests, have represented themselves previously in court, forgoing traditional closing statements in favor of religious sermons that appeared designed, in part, to reject the authority of the U.S. government and the nation's courts. Both have declined to cut their hair or beards in a style adhered to by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and both have appeared in court in their khaki prison garb, wearing a kufi (a Muslim prayer cap).
At the time of their arrests more than three years ago, Sadequee was 19 and Ahmed was 21. Sadequee is American by birth. His family immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh. Ahmed's family immigrated to the United States from Pakistan when he was 12, and he is a naturalized American citizen. His father is a professor at North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega.
In the spring of 2006, after he returned from a trip to Pakistan, federal authorities detained and then arrested Ahmed on charges of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. In August 2006, Sadequee was taken into custody at the request of the U.S. government by authorities in Bangladesh, where Sadequee said he had gone to marry. In 2005, Sadequee had left Atlanta for Bangladesh and had been detained briefly by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who had searched his luggage and found in the lining a tourist map of Washington, D.C., and two CDs, one of which contained amateur videos that he and Ahmed shot during a trip to Washington that spring.
Federal agents learned that Sadequee sent those videos, which contained shots of Washington landmarks, to a jihadist Web site known as a media outlet for al-Qaida in Iraq. Those videos formed the basis of some of the charges of which Sadequee was convicted last summer.