A former teacher at a Muslim school in Maryland was again sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday for providing support to a Pakistani terrorist group, even though a federal appeals court had ordered the trial judge to reconsider the original sentence.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia earlier this year ordered a new sentencing hearing for Ali Asad Chandia, saying the judge needed to explain why he applied a rarely used "terrorism enhancement" that more than doubled Chandia's prison time to 15 years.
Chandia, who taught third grade at the al-Huda school in College Park, Maryland, was convicted in 2006 of providing military support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group in Pakistan that violently opposes Indian rule of the disputed Kashmir territory.
Specifically, Chandia was found guilty of acting as a driver and assistant to Lashkar leader Mohammed Ajmal Khan on his visits to the United States in 2002 and 2003 and helping Khan ship 50,000 paintball pellets from the United States to Pakistan.
At Friday's hearing in Alexandria, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton said Chandia's actions showed a clear intent to help Lashkar advance its terrorist agenda against India. He said the evidence was clear that Chandia, who grew up in Pakistan and whose father is a prominent attorney there, knew that Lashkar was a violent organization that used terrorist tactics.
"This defendant knew the purpose of (Lashkar). The evidence clearly shows he knew it," Hilton said.
Attorney to appeal sentence
Chandia's defense attorney, Marvin Miller, said he will again appeal the sentence, and that Hilton's explanation did not address the appellate court's fundamental concern — that Chandia did not engage in violent acts and is therefore ineligible for the terrorism enhancement.
Federal sentencing guidelines call for a tougher sentence when a defendant's crime was specifically intended to promote terrorism.
Miller cited a passage in the ruling from U.S. Circuit Judge M. Blane Michael: "The acts underlying the convictions in this case were not violent terrorist acts. ... Therefore, these acts cannot, standing alone, support application of the terrorism enhancement."
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Chandia would have been subject to 6 1/2 years at most without the terrorism enhancement. Under the enhancement, Chandia could have received a sentence of 30 years or more, but Hilton said that 15 years was appropriate under the circumstances.
Chandia, appearing in court in a worn blue prison T-shirt and orange pants, again maintained his innocence and said he never supported violence.
"What government was supposed to be intimidated by my actions?" Chandia asked the judge. "Do you think the government of India will feel intimidated by a few boxes of paintballs?"
Chandia's family and dozens of supporters filled the courtroom, with nearly all the women sitting to the left of the aisle and all the men sitting on the right.
Chandia's father, Noor Mohammed Chandia, said he believes his son is holding up bravely, and also questioned the rationale for the stiff sentence.
Chandia is the last of 11 people who were convicted as part of what prosecutors called a "Virginia jihad network" that used paintball games in 2000 and 2001 to train for holy war around the globe. Chandia did not participate in the paintball games but was acquainted with some of those who played.