When he began testifying at his own trial this week, a Florida doctor accused of pledging to support al-Qaida hoped to convince a jury that the FBI had it all wrong: He was a man of peace.
If that was the plan, then Rafiq Abdus Sabir had a disastrous day on the witness stand Friday.
Under cross examination, the Columbia University-trained physician was forced to acknowledge a history of family violence, a fascination with weapons and a belief that good Muslims should engage in armed jihad, or holy war.
U.S. Attorney Victor Hou asked Sabir about an audio tape, found at his house, in which a religious lecturer said God would “destroy the disbelievers.”
“That’s God’s word. I have to believe in it,” Sabir said.
They also discussed passages from religious books. One said Jews should be expelled from the Arabian peninsula. Another said Muslims are obligated to obey an imam who declares war against nonbelievers. Hou asked Sabir whether he agreed with both passages, and he said yes — but added that Muslims are only required to follow such instructions from a legitimate religious authority.
Hou pressed him further: “You believe that you must participate in armed jihad, if you get a chance to?”
“Yes,” Sabir answered, but said only in a legitimate conflict.
Allegedly wanted to treat al-Qaida fighters
Sabir was arrested in 2005 after an FBI agent posing as an al-Qaida recruiter recorded him taking an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Prosecutors said the doctor also agreed to treat al-Qaida fighters wounded in Saudi Arabia, where Sabir then worked at a hospital.
Sabir has said he thought the oath, given in Arabic, was a routine declaration of religious faith, and missed the references to al-Qaida and Islamic fighters because he didn’t really know the language.
But any sympathy the jury had for him may have eroded Friday.
Jurors were shown a shotgun prosecutors said Sabir kept at his home, in defiance of a court order banning him from owning firearms. Hou asked Sabir about his training in martial arts and several swords and a hunting arrow found at his house; Sabir explained that he was only a collector.
History of domestic violence
The prosecutor also brought up writings in which Sabir had expressed disgust for American capitalism, and his displeasure with the government after it went after him for failing to pay tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.
Sabir, a polygamist who has had four wives (though never more than two at once), also appeared unapologetic as he talked about a domestic dispute in 2002. He was accused of disappearing with his two young children on a trip to Pennsylvania without telling their distraught mother.
When she found him, they got into a tug-of-war over their four-year-old, and the wife wound up with a cracked tooth. Sabir fled with the kids, and, after an interstate manhunt, landed in jail. His wife refused to press charges.
“I don’t need her permission to take my children,” Sabir said. “I don’t need to tell her where I’m going.”
He reacted defiantly again as he was questioned about a time he slapped a daughter and handcuffed her to a radiator for failing to dress quickly enough for school. “She punched me in my face!” Sabir said, saying that was why he slapped her.
The trial is scheduled to continue into next week. Sabir, who is expected to be on the witness stand again Monday, could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of providing material support to a terrorist organization.