Three Muslim men – two American citizens and a permanent resident – were convicted Thursday of plotting terrorist attacks overseas and at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., in a case that highlights the threat of terrorism from “homegrown” jihadists. During the three-week federal trial in New Bern, N.C., prosecutors presented evidence that U.S.-born defendants Omar Aly Hassan, 22, Ziyad Yaghi, 21, and Hysen Sherifi, a 24-year-old refugee from Kosovo, had traveled overseas, raised money and undergone weapons training as they prepared to launch attacks. The men face prison sentences of 15 years to life.
The three were part of an eight-member group of men led by Daniel Boyd, an American-born convert to Islam who, along with two of his sons, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges in February.
The men convicted this week were arrested and indicted in 2009 after discussing their intentions, speaking of jihad and distributing radical propaganda – but before setting any plans in motion. According to media reports, defense attorneys and other supporters of the men say the suspects were entrapped by undercover “provocateurs” and convicted of guilt by association. They said the men made “stupid” and offensive statements but had committed no crimes. A jury, deliberating for two days, disagreed.
Ten years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror strikes, some U.S. officials believe the country has made headway against foreign-based terrorist organizations. U.S. counterterrorism officials in July suggested that the killing of Osama bin Laden in May and years of drone aircraft attacks on Al Qaeda leaders have pushed the organization’s Pakistan-based core infrastructure to the brink of collapse. But the threat of terrorism by radicalized U.S. citizens and legal residents is raising new concerns.
The sensitivity of dealing with homegrown terrorists came into sharper focus on Sept. 30 when two U.S. citizens included on the SPLC’s list of 10 “Grown at Home” terrorists, Anwar al-Awlaki, a top leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and his associate, English-language blogger Samir Khan, were killed by a CIA drone missile attack in Yemen. Despite the pair’s unquestioned commitment to anti-American terrorism, some critics questioned the propriety of the U.S. government deliberately marking U.S. citizens for death without any judicial proceedings.