Two men plead guilty to aiding terrorists, had Navy battle group plans
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Two British citizens Tuesday pleaded guilty in federal court here to providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to do so.
Both men signed plea agreements negotiated by their attorneys with federal prosecutors. The agreements, detailing the defendants’ support of the Taliban in Afghanistan and other terrorist-linked groups, will enable the two to serve fewer years in prison than if they had gone to trial and been convicted.
Babar Ahmad, 39, entered his pleas Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall. But Hall said she will not decide whether to accept the plea, and the 25-year maximum sentencing agreement, until she studies an upcoming pre-sentence report, including information about Ahmad’s background.
Syed Talha Ahsan, 34, also entered his pleas Tuesday, also in front of Hall. He faces a maximum prison term of 15 years.
Each defendant could also face fines of up to $500,000.
Both men agreed with a stipulation within the agreement that from 1997-2002 they helped set up and operate a family of websites, Azzam Publications, which aided terrorists in Afghanistan.
The stipulation stated that from February 1999 to September 2001, Azzam Publications purchased web hosting services from Alabama-based Allwebco.com. Allwebco was a reseller of Internet web-hosting services that purchased and leased bandwidth and server storage space from OnLineMarketing LLC, a web hosting company based in Trumbull.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen B. Reynolds read from the stipulation that Azzam Publications stated on its website it was established “to propagate the call for Jihad, among the Muslims who are sitting down, ignorant of this vital duty.”
The website added: “The purpose of Azzam Publications is to ‘incite the believers’ and also secondly to raise some money for the brothers.”
Those websites were primarily focused on the wars in Bosnia and Chechnya.
The stipulation also said Ahmad and Ahsan used websites to provide material support for terrorism by soliciting and conspiring to provide funds for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Ahmad and Ahsan admitted Tuesday in court to Hall that they had participated in those actions. They are tentatively scheduled to be sentenced March 4.
As part of the agreement, prosecutors dropped several other counts against both defendants.
Deirdre Daly, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, noted in a statement that the men “acknowledged they solicited funds, recruited personnel and provided additional support for acts of terror, including efforts based out of the U.S. and solicitations for support that were specifically targeted at U.S. residents.”
She added, “They admitted they knew their efforts could result in the maiming and murder of individuals, including U.S. citizens.”
On Oct. 6, 2004, and June 28, 2006, federal grand juries in Connecticut returned separate indictments charging Ahmad and Ahsan with terrorism-related offenses. Ahmad was arrested by British authorities on Aug. 5, 2004, and Ahsan was arrested July 19, 2006, also in England. They were detained there until being extradited to Connecticut in October 2012.
The time each man has already spent incarcerated will likely be subtracted from their federal sentences.
Federal court documents noted that during the times of the defendants’ offenses, the Taliban allowed territory under its control in Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven and base of operations for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, who worked to commit acts of violence against the U.S. and its citizens.
The court documents said Ahmad worked to secure GPS devices, Kevlar helmets, night vision goggles, ballistic vests and camouflage combat suits in order to supply them to terrorist groups. Prosecutors said Ahmad and Ahsan recruited and arranged for individuals to travel to Afghanistan to train for violent jihad.
The documents said Ahsan, with Ahmad’s assistance, traveled to and fought in Afghanistan and attended terrorist training camps run by Al Qaeda.
The documents also stated that when Ahmad’s residence in England was searched in December 2003, authorities found an electronic document with previously classified plans regarding movements of a U.S. Navy battle group in the Middle East. The document discussed the battle group’s perceived vulnerability to terrorist attack.
Ahsan was alleged to have possessed, accessed and modified the battle group document. In court Tuesday, Ahsan conceded he received that document and, in Hall’s words, “meant for Mr. Ahmad to have it.”
Ahsan’s attorney, Richard Reeve, told Hall that Ahsan was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder, but it has not affected his ability to assist in his own defense. Reeve described Ahsan as “very intelligent.”
Ahsan, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, sported a beard and glasses. He was soft-spoken and deferential as he answered Hall’s questions about his plea decision.
Hall said she will need to study the upcoming pre-sentence report to find out more about Ahsan before deciding what sentence is appropriate.
Reeve told her Ahsan “did not have personal knowledge” of some of the allegations in the agreement; Reeve said he did not administer the website. Reeve also asserted federal sentencing guidelines for terrorist offenses are “unreasonable” and use “one cookie cutter approach” for defendants, no matter what their specific actions.
During the morning session, held in a crowded courtroom, Ahmad was also respectful in his demeanor as he faced Hall. Ahmad, who is balding and has a slight beard, wore an orange prison jumpsuit.
He told Hall he was treated for “post traumatic stress” in 2009-10 but is not now taking any medication.
Hall told Ahmad, “I don’t know enough about you right now” to determine what sentence he should get in the range up to 25 years. She said she will learn more about him through the pre-sentence report.
Hall said she was going to decide later whether to accept his guilty plea and the plea agreement after she studies the report.
Reynolds said he will argue at the sentencing hearing for maximum sentences for both defendants.