ATLANTA — Syed Haris Ahmed may not have posed an imminent threat to the United States with his e-mails discussing violent Jihad, his amateurish videos of Washington landmarks or his implausible plots to attack domestic targets, but his acts supported terrorism just the same, government prosecutors said.
On Wednesday, a federal judge agreed, finding the 24-year-old former Georgia Tech student from Dawsonville guilty of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.
Ahmed, who has spent three years in federal custody awaiting trial, faces a prison sentence of up to 15 years after being convicted by U.S. District Court Judge William Duffey. The judge decided the case instead of a jury at Ahmed’s request.
U.S. Attorney David Nahmias did not take questions from reporters after the verdict, citing the pending trial of Ahmed’s friend and codefendant, Ehsanul Sadequee.
However, Nahmias said in a prepared statement that the case "has never been about an imminent threat to the United States, because in the post-9/11 world we will not wait to disrupt terrorism-related activity until a bomb is built and ready to explode."
"The fuse that leads to an explosion of violence may be long, but once it is lit — once individuals unlawfully agree to support terrorist acts at home or abroad — we will prosecute them to snuff that fuse out," Nahmias said.
According to court testimony, Ahmed was a high school student in Dawsonville when he was introduced to Islamic extremism over the Internet. After enrolling at Georgia Tech, he and Sadequee returned to the woods of Dawson County to engage in paintball battles that Ahmed envisioned as preparation for violent Jihad.
In 2005, Ahmed took a bus with Sadequee to Canada, where they met with others who shared their views, according to prosecutors. Ahmed allegedly spoke of attacking Dobbins Air Reserve Base or using lasers to disrupt global positioning system satellites, plots that never got past the talking stages.
According to court testimony, Ahmed and Sadequee later drove in Ahmed’s truck to Washington, where they shot poor-quality "casing" videos of locations that included the World Bank Building and Pentagon.
A voice can be heard in one of the Pentagon videos saying, "this is where our brothers attacked."
Ahmed told FBI interviewers the videos were meant to earn the respect and trust of extremists abroad. The videos were later found on the computers of two terror suspects arrested in London, and the camera that shot them was eventually traced back to the Dawsonville home of Ahmed’s parents.
Ahmed, a native of Pakistan, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who moved to Dawsonville in 2003 after his father got a job teaching computer science at North Georgia College and State University. He was living in an off-campus apartment in Atlanta at the time of his 2006 arrest.
Ahmed showed no reaction to the verdict and his family members sat expressionless in the courtroom gallery as the judge announced his decision.
His father, Syed Riaz Ahmed, said afterward, "We were expecting it ... that’s what the system’s supposed to do."
The senior Ahmed said his son never harmed anyone.
"You think something and you’re guilty of doing something in America," he said.
The defendant’s older sister, Mariam Ahmed, traveled from Pakistan for the trial.
"He’s not guilty of any charges in the eyes of Allah," she said, adding she felt her brother was prosecuted for his attitude rather than actions. "I’m sure there are some Americans that think things of Muslims, but they’re not prosecuted," she said.
From the outset, the government said the trial was about Ahmed’s conduct, not his beliefs. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McBurney, the chief prosecutor in the case, told Duffey as much in his opening statement.
Ahmed’s attorney, Jack Martin, said afterward that regardless of the verdict, his client was satisfied at having expressed his position to the court. Ahmed made his own closing argument last week, quoting from the Quran but seldom touching on the facts of the case.
Martin said the most important phase of the case is yet to come.
"That will be deciding what the appropriate sentence is," Martin said.
Duffey deferred sentencing until after Saduquee’s trial, which is scheduled to begin with jury selection Aug. 3.
Martin described his client as an unfailingly polite, if somewhat naive young man.
"I never saw in him the face of a terrorist," Martin said.