A 23-year-old man was convicted Wednesday of aiding terrorist groups by sending videotapes of U.S. landmarks overseas and plotting to support "violent jihad," after a federal jury rejected his arguments that it was "empty talk."
The Atlanta jury found Ehsanul Islam Sadequee guilty of all four charges he faced after about five hours of deliberations that began Tuesday afternoon.
Sadequee, who could face up to 60 years in prison, is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 15. He stared silently after the verdict was read, and relatives and supporters in the courtroom had no immediate comment.
He is the second Georgia terror suspect to be convicted in the span of two months. In June, a judge convicted Sadequee's friend, Syed Haris Ahmed, of one count of conspiracy to provide material to support terrorism in the U.S. and abroad.
Prosecutors said the pair took a series of videos of the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol and that Sadequee later sent them to suspected terrorists overseas. They also said Sadequee traveled to Bangladesh to link up with suspected terrorists and help a Pakistan-based terrorist group.
'We were immature young guys'
Sadequee, who represented himself at trial, dismissed his discussions about jihad as boastful chatter and said he never followed through on any of it.
"We were immature young guys who had imaginations running wild," Sadequee told jurors in his closing arguments Tuesday. "But I was not then, and am not now, a terrorist."
Prosecutors, however, depicted Sadequee as a dangerous would-be terrorist who needed to be stopped before he took action. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert McBurney said authorities had "overwhelming" evidence that Sadequee took concrete steps to aid terror organizations.
"The goal is to catch a terrorist before he flies a plane into the building, to stop a terrorist before he gets too far," McBurney said. "No government is obligated to wait until the fuse is lit."
Authorities monitor online forums
Authorities said Sadequee first sought to join the Taliban in 2001, shortly after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. By 2004, they say he had delved deeper into online forums devoted to supporters of jihad.
That's when authorities said he met Ahmed, a former Georgia Tech student who faces a 15-year prison sentence. Authorities said the two took a bus to Toronto in March 2005 and met with at least three other subject of a federal investigation to discuss possible attack targets.
A month later, the pair drove Ahmed's pickup truck to Washington to shoot 62 choppy clips of U.S. landmarks such as the U.S. Capitol and lesser-known sites, including a fuel depot and a Masonic Temple in northern Virginia, authorities said.
One of the videos, which was played for jurors last week, showed the two driving by the Pentagon as Sadequee said: "This is where our brothers attacked the Pentagon."
Sadequee sent at least two of the clips to an overseas contact days after he returned, authorities said, disguising them as "jimmy's 13th birthday party" and "volleyball contest."
'Real terrorists use Google Earth'
McBurney told jurors the videos were designed to send a chilling message: "We are in your backyard."
But Sadequee countered: "Any real terrorist would probably go to Google Earth to see live images."
Sadequee, who is originally from Virginia and has family in the Atlanta area, then traveled to Bangladesh in August 2005, where he soon got married. Authorities said he made the trip with a more fiendish mission in mind: To try to link up with terror groups.
They say he communicated with Ahmed and other suspected terrorists, including Mirsad Bektasevic, a Balkan-born Swede who was convicted in 2007 of planning to blow up a European target to force the pullout of foreign troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Attorney Don Samuel, who was first appointed to represent Sadequee and sat next to him through the trial, said the likely turning point for jurors was seeing videos of bomb belts and explosives found on Bektasevic when he was arrested.
"Jurors probably thought seeing that it was more than just talk, even though for Shifa it was," he said. "It changed the whole atmosphere of the trial."
Witnesses compare Superman to Antichrist
Many of the members of the jury of nine men and three women left the courthouse without speaking about the case, but one female juror who would not give her name said: "I'm ready to get out of here. We're thankful justice has been served."
The verdict marked the end of an often bewildering six days of testimony. Sadequee, who decided at the trial's outset to represent himself, elicited testimony from government witnesses about the relationship between Superman and the Antichrist and urging FBI witnesses to interpret his e-mail statements.
At one point, he turned to the jurors and confessed that representing himself proved more difficult than it seemed.
"It's not as easy as you see in Law & Order," he said.