|NY Times, July 14, 2005
Scholar Is Given Life Sentence in 'Virginia Jihad' Case
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
ALEXANDRIA, Va., July 13 - An influential Muslim scholar, whom prosecutors
called a "purveyor of hate and war," was ordered on Wednesday to spend the
rest of his life in prison for inciting his young followers in Northern
Virginia to wage war against the United States in the days after the Sept.
The scholar, Ali al-Timimi, was defiant to the end, telling a federal judge
as he was about to be sentenced that he considered himself a "prisoner of
conscience" who was being persecuted for his strong Muslim beliefs.
"I will not admit guilt nor seek the court's mercy," Mr. Timimi told a
hushed courtroom filled with more than two dozen Muslims who have rallied
around him. "I do this simply because I am innocent."
The federal district judge hearing the case, Leonie M. Brinkema, ordered
the life sentence grudgingly, saying she was bound by federal guidelines.
While Judge Brinkema said there was significant evidence that Mr. Timimi
had incited his followers toward violence, she said she considered the
prison terms mandated by the guidelines under four counts of the conviction
to be "very draconian." She said she had no choice but to impose the life
sentence after refusing a defense request to set aside the guilty verdicts.
Mr. Timimi, an Iraqi-American cancer researcher who lectured at a mosque in
Northern Virginia and circulated his religious writings on the Internet, is
the most prominent Muslim prosecuted in connection with what federal
prosecutors have labeled the Virginia jihad network.
Prosecutors portrayed Mr. Timimi as a spiritual and intellectual leader of
the young men in the network, as they traveled to foreign training camps
and prepared to wage a holy war in defense of Islam by playing paintball
and gathering weapons and explosives.
Gordon Kromberg, the lead prosecutor in the case for the Justice
Department, called Mr. Timimi "a purveyor of hate and war" in court on
"Al-Timimi hates the United States and calls for its destruction," Mr.
Kromberg said in urging lifelong imprisonment. "He's allowed to do that in
this country. He's not allowed to solicit treason. That's what he did. He
deserves every day of the time he will serve."
At one dinner meeting on Sept. 16, 2001, Mr. Timimi told some of the men in
the group that it was their Muslim duty to fight for Islam overseas and to
defend the Taliban in Afghanistan against American forces, according to
testimony at his trial. And in an Internet message in 2003, he described
the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia as a "good omen" for Muslims
in an apocalyptic conflict with the West.
Defense lawyers for Mr. Timimi argued that his language, while offensive to
many, was free speech protected by the First Amendment. At Wednesday's
hearing, the defense lawyers used that argument and others in seeking to
have the judge set aside the guilty verdicts handed up by a jury in
Alexandria in April.
The jury convicted Mr. Timimi on charges of conspiracy, attempting to aid
the Taliban, soliciting treason and soliciting others to wage war against
the United States, and aiding and abetting the use of firearms and
explosives. The last charge carried a mandatory life sentence.
Judge Brinkema said she found the free-speech defense "unpersuasive" and
refused to throw out any of the verdicts.
"This was not a case about speech; this was a case about intent," she said,
specifically Mr. Timimi's intent to incite others to commit crimes against
the United States.
She said the testimony "did strongly support" the legitimacy of the verdicts.
Several Muslim supporters of Mr. Timimi wept as the life sentence was
imposed. Mauri Saalakhan, a leader of a Maryland human rights group called
the Peace and Justice Foundation, which supports Islamic causes, said
outside the courthouse that the sentence was "a tragedy not just for Dr.
Timimi but for all of us."
Edward B. MacMahon Jr., one of the defense lawyers, described Mr. Timimi as
"a gentle man" and said he was "not a criminal," but Mr. MacMahon
acknowledged that the life sentence was the only possible penalty once
Judge Brinkema refused to throw out the convictions.
Mr. Timimi delivered to the court an impassioned and often eloquent speech
that lasted nearly 10 minutes, touching on Greek and Roman philosophy,
religious history and the United States Constitution.
Quoting Aaron Burr, Mr. Timimi said the idea that a cancer researcher like
himself would incite his followers to violence was the stuff of "crudities
and absurdities." He said that he and other Muslims had been "denied
justice" for speaking about controversial religious ideas and that his
prosecution reflected an abandonment of an American tradition of protecting
"And that which is exploited today to persecute a single member of a
minority," he said, "will most assuredly come back to haunt the majority
Lawyers for Mr. Timimi, who had been free on bond since days after his
indictment in September 2004, sought to have him remain out of custody
pending his appeals, but Judge Brinkema refused the request.
"It is time," she said in ordering him into custody.
Mr. Timimi thanked the judge, then flashed a smile and waved to relatives
in the courtroom as he was led away.