Sunday, March 22, 2015

FBI Ensnares Facebook User

Judge Puts Defendant in Mental Institution for Rant

In another heartbreaking story coming out of Raleigh, North Carolina, a young Muslim man with no criminal record, Abdul Basit Sheikh,  is being prosecuted by the same US attorney as Ziyad Yaghi faced, Jason Kellhoffer. Sheikh is accused of providing material support for a Foreign Terrorist Organization because he attempted to travel to Lebanon with the intention of training to join Al-Nusra Front. His parents described the 29-year-old Pakistani immigrant to the US as “depressed” and said he spent most of his time in front of the internet. Sheikh had contributed many religious and political comments to discussions on Facebook. He posted a number of gory videos of things like pro-Assad soldiers being executed, Mullah Omar of the Taliban and other famous Islamic preachers calling for the destruction of America, and had praised the Islamic fighters against Assad and the Islamic Caliphate.

In 2013, the FBI created a page in support of Islamic militants. Sheikh joined and thus began an online friendship with an FBI agent, who encouraged him to go to Syria and join al-Nusra and facilitated his travel arrangements. Sheikh booked a one-way ticket to Turkey for 9/5/13 but had second thoughts and failed to show up at the airport. He then informed the FBI agent that in November 2012, he already traveled to Turkey in order to join the Free Syrian Army but had become disillusioned with them because all they wanted was money, thus he became more interested in supporting the Caliphate. Via Facebook private message, the FBI agent offered to put Sheikh in touch with “a trusted brother with JAN (Jabhat al-Nusra),” who was in actuality an Online Covert Employee.

Sheikh then began to correspond via Skype with this FBI employee, saying, “I want to help the mujahideen, in any way I can.” He stated his belief that al-Nusra was the most disciplined group fighting Assad. The employee asked him if he would be willing to fight, and encouraged him to travel to Northern Lebanon for training before going to Syria.

On November 1, 2013, Sheikh bought a ticket to Beirut via Canada and Turkey. On November 2, upon his arrival at the airport gate, after being allowed to check in his bag and go through security, he was arrested by law enforcement. On November 12, the US government charged him with “Material support for a Foreign Terrorist Organization.”

What the indictment fails to mention was that the FBI agent who communicated with him on Facebook was posing as a Syrian nurse, and that their messages contained romantic content. A large part of his motivation for traveling was marriage.

“The Sheikh case points out the hypocrisy of prosecuting people who support an anti-Assad group the government judged as terrorists while the Obama administration favors other fighters in the same bloody conflict,” said Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio.

On March 5, 2014, Sheikh told Federal Judge Terrence Boyle that he wanted to replace his government-appointed lawyer Joseph Gilbert with an attorney hired by his family, and stated that he was being “physically and morally abused” in prison.

"I am concerned about his competence," Gilbert said.

Prosecutor Jason Kellhoffer told Boyle that he saw no need for a psychiatric exam at this time, and Boyle did not order one. In June 2014, Sheikh was declared mentally competent to stand trial.

However, nearly a year later, on January 7, 2015 Judge Boyle suddenly ordered him to be involuntarily committed to a mental institution about seven minutes into the competancy hearing, when Sheikh interrupted the proceedings, telling the judge he was ready to tell a jury his story that day and it was a story a US jury should hear.

He was not only concerned about his arrest at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport in 2013 when he was attempting to leave the country. Sheikh also argued that the United States should pay reparations for war deaths in Pakistan, his native country, Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East – “100 camels worth of monetary compensation,” reported Anne Blythe in the News Observer.

“In a series of run-on sentences, he talked about cluster bombs, the pain he felt for Pakistanis killed in the conflict, President Barack Obama, the US attorney general, his family, the government and his desire to be released from custody.”

“If you’re trying to make a record that you’re not competent, you’re doing an excellent job,” said Judge Boyle.

“No, I’m competent,” Sheikh exclaimed. “I have a right to travel the world!”

Boyle ordered Sheikh to be involuntarily committed in a hospital for 120 days for psychiatric treatment. He told Sheikh he faced the possibility of the involuntary administration of psychiatric drugs so that he might better understand the seriousness of the charges against him.

“No thanks, no thanks,” said Sheikh. “I am perfectly all right. My belongings should be returned to me and I should be allowed to leave this country.”

In August of 2013, Thomas Walker the US Attorney for North Carolina’s Eastern District said he “made changes in his staff” after a federal appeals said it was concerned with the conduct of prosecutors. Judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals have publicly complained the offices did not turn over evidence to defense attorneys.

While the heads of government departments were “transferred out,” lower rung prosecutors such as Kellhoffer continue to engage in overzealous prosecution of idealistic Muslims who pose no threat to the United States.

This should serve as a warning to be very careful about anyone you meet online that seems to agree with all your opinions.

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