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Last defendant found guilty in Virginia Jihad case

Written by: Staff

Washington, June 7 (UNI) A Pakistani national, the last of an 11-member ''Virginia Jihad Network'', was convicted in Virginia for aiding terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba, which is active in Jammu and Kashmir.

Ali Asad Chandia was convicted yesterday by a jury in the district court of Alexandria, Virginia after being found guilty of three counts of providing material support to Lashkar-e-Toiba or conspiring to do so.

Although jurors acquitted him of a fourth count of supporting terrorists, the 29-year-old faces upto 45 years in prison when he is sentenced on August 18.

Prosecutors said Chandia trained at a Lashkar camp in Pakistan and helped the group acquire paintballs and other equipment with potential military applications when he returned to the United States.

Lashkar has been declared a terrorist group by the US government.

The verdict brings the number of Muslim men convicted in the investigation to 11. The prosecutors called the convicted a network dedicated to preparing for war against US troops.

Their training included playing paintball in the Virginia countryside and attending Lashkar camps overseas. Prosecutors said Chandia is a former personal assistant to Ali al-Timimi, the group's spiritual leader, who is serving a life prison term, according to a report in the Washington Post.

Federal officials have long described the case as one of the most important domestic terrorism prosecutions since the September 11, 2001, attacks. Yesterday, they hailed Chandia's conviction and said it underscored the importance of cooperating with foreign law enforcement agencies in the battle against terrorism.

''This case demonstrates our relentless commitment to bringing to justice those who provide support to terrorist organizations,'' said US Attorney Chuck Rosenberg.

The local Muslim community has criticised the investigation as overzealous and the prison terms of those convicted as excessive.

They flocked the courthouse to show support for Chandia, a third-grade teacher at a Muslim school in Maryland. About 100 supporters attended the closing arguments on Monday.

Chandia, his hands clasped behind him, showed no reaction as the verdict of the nine-woman, three-man jury was read. He then smiled and shook hands with supporters in the courtroom. The Pakistani citizen remains free on a personal recognizance bond.

His attorney, Marvin Miller, said the charges were overzealous and that prosecutors had ''made a calculated appeal to emotion'' and had ''misrepresented the Islamic religion.'' Rosenberg responded that the government ''presented a straightforward and compelling case, and the jury based its verdict on facts, nothing more, nothing less.'' During the two-week trial, prosecutors introduced evidence showing that Chandia traveled to a Lashkar office in Lahore in November 2001 shortly after resigning from his job at a Costco store. Prosecutors told the jury that Chandia then trained at a Lashkar camp, though they acknowledged they had no eyewitnesses toconfirm this.

After returning to the United States, Chandia was accused of working with other defendants to obtain equipment for Lashkar. It remains unclear whether any of the equipment was used by Lashkar and there was no indication that any of it was intended for use in the United States.

Assistant US Attorney David Laufman told the jury in closing arguments, ''Let your voices be heard in our nation's struggle to confront the dangers of Islamic extremism.'' UNI XC PM KN1920

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