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Jury rejects Fla. doctor’s defense, convicts him of terror help

(AP) A Florida doctor on trial for pledging his support to al-Qaida had hoped to convince jurors when he testified that he did not know he was pledging to help the terror group. 

But the jury apparently did not believe him, and on Monday he was convicted of providing material support to terrorists by agreeing to treat injured al-Qaida fighters so they could return to Iraq to battle Americans. 

Dr. Rafiq Abdus Sabir, 52, was convicted in Manhattan federal court after a three-week trial that featured not only testimony by him but also Ali Soufan, an FBI agent who posed as the al-Qaida recruiter in a sting operation that led to four arrests. 

When the verdict was read, Sabir looked straight ahead. Later, as he was escorted from the courtroom, he waved to supporters, who said, “Stay strong.” 

Sabir’s lawyer, Ed Wilford, said, “We are deeply disappointed in the verdict. It is another example of the erosion of constitutional rights we suffered post-9/11.” 

The charges against the Harlem-born Sabir, including conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, carry a potential maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Sentencing was set for Sept. 12. 

The verdict came after jurors heard audio tapes of a May 2005 ceremony in a Bronx apartment in which Sabir and his best friend, Tariq Shah, a martial arts expert and jazz musician, pledged loyalty to al-Qaida and, the government alleged, Osama bin Laden. 

Juror Jeffrey Ellsworth, of Brewster, N.Y., said he was among several jurors who had reasonable doubt about guilt when they entered deliberations last Thursday, but he said he had decided Sabir was guilty after he played Sabir in a jury room reenactment of Sabir’s pledging ceremony. 

“By the time I was done, I knew he was guilty,” Ellsworth said. 

He said it became clear to him when he realized Sabir said “al-Qaida” near the end of the transcript after others said it more than a dozen times. Sabir had claimed during five days on the witness stand that he did not know he was pledging to al-Qaida because others had mispronounced it. 

Sabir’s friend Shah pleaded guilty just before trial to providing material support to a terrorist organization and agreed to serve 15 years in prison, though he has not yet been formally sentenced. A Brooklyn bookstore owner who pleaded guilty was sentenced to 13 years in prison. A Washington, D.C., cab driver has pleaded guilty and agreed to serve 15 years in prison. 

Sabir, of Boca Raton, Fla., testified at trial that Shah never told him he was talking with an al-Qaida recruiter. At the pledge ceremony, Sabir said, he also did not know “sheik Osama” meant bin Laden. 

Prosecutors had no immediate comment on the verdict. 

In a closing argument, Karl Metzner, deputy chief of the federal prosecutor’s criminal division in Manhattan, called Sabir and Shah “blood brothers” who shared the same militant view of Islam. 

Metzner said Shah had agreed to provide al-Qaida volunteers with training in martial arts and Sabir had agreed to medically treat wounded al-Qaida members while he worked at a hospital in Saudi Arabia. 

Metzner said Soufan was able to befriend Shah and Sabir in part because he had studied al-Qaida for the past decade, questioning dozens of terrorists and learning the inner workings of a group that thrives on the close personal relationships of its members. 

The prosecutor warned jurors that the FBI agent was playing the role of al-Qaida recruiters who really do try to enlist the help of those with militant ideas in cities around the world. 

He said al-Qaida decentralized after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, choosing to plan attacks against many small targets rather than large ones. 

Metzner said bin Laden might pass along preferences but now left it up to cell leaders to choose targets. 

Soufan, he said, had investigated the 1998 twin bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, which killed 224 people, 12 of them Americans, and had led the probe into the August 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors. 

Soufan had testified that Shah was eager to help al-Qaida and to enlist help from his friend Sabir.

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May 22, 2007 - Posted by | Blogroll, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror

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