Federal prosecutors say an electrician from Woodbridge deserves a 15-year prison sentence for his online efforts to support a Pakistani terrorist organization by producing propaganda videos and trying to recruit others to join.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled Friday for 24-year-old Jubair Ahmad, who pleaded guilty in December to providing material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani organization that has been blamed for the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.
Earlier this month, the U.S. offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of LeT's founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. He responded by calling a news conference in Pakistan, where he moves openly, and mocking U.S. efforts to capture him.
In court papers arguing for a maximum sentence of 15 years, federal prosecutors at U.S. District Court in Alexandria revealed new details about Ahmad's efforts on behalf of the organization.
In addition to producing the video at the request of Saeed's son, Talha Saeed, prosecutors say he completed military training at a Lashkar camp before coming to the United States. He tried to complete its advanced commando training but was rejected for being too young and skinny.
Ahmad himself spoke numerous times of his wish to die as a martyr.
"Although he conducted his jihad with a computer rather than an AK-47, Ahmad's criminal actions were nonetheless designed to support LeT's mission of waging violent jihad against those they consider to be the enemies of Islam," prosecutors Neil Hammerstrom and John Gibbs wrote.
The defense, meanwhile, is asking for a prison term of only two years. While they acknowledge wrongdoing, the lawyers say that support for Lashkar is common in Ahmad's homeland.
Lashkar, they argue, is essentially a mainstream entity within Pakistan, one that has tacit government support in the country's ongoing struggle to gain an upper hand over rival India.
As a Pakistani native who maintained ties to his home country while living in Virginia, Ahmad saw advocacy for Lashkar as normal and acceptable, the lawyers argued.
"While such discussions are commonplace in Pakistan, Mr. Ahmad's open discussion of these topics reflects his failure to appreciate potential criminality of doing so in the United States," wrote Ahmad's lawyer, public defender Brian Mizer.
The defense argues that supporting Lashkar should not be viewed as harshly as supporting, say, al-Qaida, because Lashkar has never specifically targeted U.S. interests.
The defense also argues that the case exploits a narrow exception in the law that makes a crime what otherwise would be constitutionally protected speech. Had Ahmad made the video on his own, the lawyers argue, he would not have committed a crime. His coordination with Lashkar is what makes his action criminal.
"The fissures in the First Amendment's freedoms of association and speech are not offered as an excuse for Mr. Ahmad's criminal conduct. But they are offered as mitigation for a man who was raised to adulthood watching (Lashkar) operate openly and legally in Pakistan and who has little background in American culture much less the evolution of American constitutional law," Mizer wrote.