TOLEDO, Ohio — A jury on Friday convicted three men of Middle Eastern descent of plotting to recruit and train terrorists to kill American soldiers in Iraq.
The men — Mohammad Amawi, 28, Marwan El-Hindi, 45, and Wassim Mazloum, 27 — face a maximum sentence of life in prison. Prosecutors said the men were learning to shoot guns and make explosives while raising money to fund their plans to wage a holy war against U.S. troops.
Defense attorneys charged that the three defendants, who all lived in the Toledo area, were manipulated by a government informant.
The jury returned its verdict after three days of deliberations. U.S. District Judge James G. Carr did not set a sentencing date, said Bill Edwards, acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
Amawi, El-Hindi and Mazloum were convicted of conspiring to kill or maim people outside the United States, including military personnel. Amawi and El-Hindi were convicted of distributing information regarding explosives to terrorists.
The government's case against the three revolved around an undercover FBI informant who recorded the men for about two years beginning in 2004 while they talked about training in explosives, guns, and sniper tactics.
They often met at a tiny storefront mosque where they prayed together and in their homes.
The informant, Darren Griffin, said most people at the mosque shunned him and that no one raised any threats until El-Hindi began talking about kidnapping Israeli soldiers. Amawi, Griffin said, asked him to help him train two recruits from Chicago for holy war.
Griffin won the trust of the men by posing as a former soldier who grew disenchanted with U.S. foreign policy who was now intent on violence against America.
‘Killing Americans in Iraq is OK’
According to one secret recording made by Griffin, Amawi said he was troubled by the loss of life in New York in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but he quickly added: "Killing Americans in Iraq is OK."
Griffin testified that he twice traveled to Jordan with Amawi and also taught Amawi and Mazloum how to shoot guns.
El-Hindi told Griffin, according to recordings heard in court, that he knew two cousins who were eager to receive "jihad training." Griffin asked El-Hindi if he was recruiting for jihad. "Oh no, I just want to take these two," El-Hindi answered, adding that he wanted to take care of them for their families.
The two Chicago-area cousins — Khaleel Ahmed of Chicago and Zubair A. Ahmed of suburban North Chicago — have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to kill American soldiers and face trial next year.
Defense attorneys said Griffin lied and manipulated the defendants by putting words in their mouths so that he could stay on the government payroll.
Attorneys for the men also questioned how the three men could have been involved in a conspiracy when they never practiced shooting guns together or watched training videos together.
Griffin testified that the three gathered in the same place just once during the two years he investigated them. He also said that he never saw e-mails from the men that talked about plotting to kill soldiers.
Amawi and El-Hindi are U.S. citizens, and Mazloum came to the U.S. legally from Lebanon. El-Hindi was born in Jordan, and Amawi was born in the U.S. but also has Jordanian citizenship.
They had blended easily into the city's thriving Muslim community.
Mazloum was a college student who helped his brother run a used car lot. Amawi once worked at a bakery. And El-Hindi was a married father of seven.
All had moved to the Toledo area only in recent years. Still, the arrests stunned the city's Arab-American community that produced actor Jamie Farr and entertainer Danny Thomas and has been rooted in the city for generations.
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