Over the past decade, the department has successfully and securely used the criminal justice system to convict and incarcerate hundreds of defendants for terrorism and terrorism-related offenses that occurred both in the United States and overseas, including plots targeting both civilian and military targets. These post-9/11 terror prosecutions have proceeded without any terror defendant escaping federal custody or terrorist retaliation against a judicial district.
Over the past three years, America has dealt with some of the most significant terrorist threats to the homeland since 9/11. These threats have become increasingly diverse and decentralized, often making them more challenging to identify and counter. There has been an expanding universe of groups and people targeting our country, including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Pakistani Taliban and other affiliates, as well as an increasing number of radicalized U.S. citizens and residents. There has also been greater diversity in terms of tactics, with a trend toward smaller, faster-developing plots, rather than larger, long-term plots like those carried out on 9/11.
The Justice Department has played a vital role in combating these emerging threats, and it continues to adapt its operations. During calendar years 2009 and 2010, the Justice Department charged more defendants in federal court with the most serious terrorism offenses than in any two-year period since 9/11. Some of the more significant international terrorism prosecutions in recent years include the following:
- New York Subway Plot:In September 2009, a combined law enforcement and intelligence effort thwarted an al-Qaeda-sponsored plot to attack the New York subway system. Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of New York in February and April 2010, respectively, in connection with their roles in the plot. Co-defendant Adis Medunjanin is currently awaiting trial. Zazi’s cousin also pleaded guilty to helping Zazi obtain al-Qaeda training and obstructing the terrorism investigation, and Zazi’s father and uncle have also been convicted of conspiring to obstruct justice in the terrorism investigation. An additional person was convicted of lying to federal agents in connection with the case. Five additional defendants, including Adnan El-Shukrijumah, who is accused of being a senior leader of al-Qaeda, have also been indicted as part of the investigation.
- Times Square Plot:In June 2010, Faisal Shahzad pleaded guilty in the Southern District of New York to attempting to detonate a car bomb in New York City’s Times Square on the evening of May 1, 2010. Shahzad admitted that he received explosives training from trainers affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban. In October 2010, Shahzad was sentenced to life in prison.
- Mumbai and Denmark Terror Plots:In March 2010, David Headley pleaded guilty in the Northern District of Illinois to a dozen terrorism charges, admitting that he participated in planning the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, as well as later planning to attack a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. In June 2011, Headley co-defendant Tahawwur Rana was convicted of participating in the Denmark terror conspiracy and providing material support to the Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. Six other defendants, including alleged Pakistani terror leader Ilyas Kashmiri and accused Lashkar-e-Tayyiba operative Sajid Mir, have been indicted as part of the investigation.
- Al-Shabaab Terror Recruitment:Since 2009, 19 individuals have been charged in the District of Minnesota as part of “Operation Rhino,” an investigation that has focused on the recruitment of young men from the Minneapolis-area to fight on behalf of the terrorist organization, al-Shabaab, in Somalia. Six of the defendants have pleaded guilty thus far. Many other defendants remain fugitives in Somalia. The earliest group of identified travelers departed in 2007, while others left in 2008 and 2009. Upon arriving in Somalia, the men resided in al-Shabaab safe-houses until constructing an al-Shabaab training camp, where they were trained by a senior member of al-Shabaab and a senior member of al-Qaeda. At least two of the travelers from Minneapolis have died in suicide bomb attacks in Somalia and several others have been killed in combat fighting for al-Shabaab. In other judicial districts, the department has charged numerous other defendants with terror violations involving al-Shabaab.
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Countering Homegrown Violent Extremism
In recent years, the Department of Justice has brought charges against an increasing number of individuals, including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, who were living in this country; had become radicalized; and had taken steps to act on their extremist beliefs. While some have acted at the direction of foreign terrorist groups, many were lone actors, operating independently of foreign terrorist organizations but motivated or radicalized by terrorist propaganda. Examples of recent homegrown terror prosecutions are below:
- Michael Finton pleaded guilty in May 2011 in the Central District of Illinois to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction stemming his efforts to detonate a vehicle bomb outside a federal courthouse in Illinois. Finton was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
- Farooque Ahmed pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia in April 2011 to attempting to provide material support to al-Qaeda and collecting information to assist in planning terrorist attacks on transit facilities in the Washington, D.C., area. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
- Daniel Boydpleaded guilty in February 2011 in the Eastern District of North Carolina to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, and conspiracy to kill abroad, stemming from his efforts to recruit and help individuals travel abroad to kill on behalf of violent extremists. Daniel’s son, Zakariya Boyd, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists in June 2011.
- Zachary Chesser pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia in February 2011 to charges of communicating threats against the writers of the South Park television show, soliciting jihadists to desensitize law enforcement and attempting to provide material support to al-Shabaab. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
- Colleen LaRosepleaded guilty in February 2011 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill abroad and other charges stemming from her role in a plot to murder a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet Mohammed. Her co-defendant, Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, pleaded guilty in March 2011 to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
- Hosam Smadi pleaded guilty in May 2010 in the Northern District of Texas to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction stemming from his efforts to bomb a 60-story skyscraper in Dallas in 2009. Smadi was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
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Assisting in the Intelligence-Gathering Process
Over the past decade, in case after case, the Justice Department has sought not just to convict and incarcerate criminals but also to develop cooperators and informants who can be used to hold accountable co-conspirators and others involved in plots against the United States. Some examples from the past 10 years in which valuable information about terrorist organizations has been elicited through the questioning of individuals at different stages of the criminal justice process, are below.
- David Headley, who pleaded guilty in 2010 in the Northern District of Illinois in connection with a plot to bomb a Danish newspaper and his role in planning the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, has provided valuable intelligence on those attacks, the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, and Pakistan-based terrorist leaders. Headley also testified in the trial of co-defendant Tahawwur Rana, who was convicted in June 2011 of participating in the Denmark terror conspiracy and providing material support to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba.
- Earnest James Ujaama pleaded guilty in 2007 in the Southern District of New York to terrorism charges arising from his efforts to establish a jihad training camp in Bly, Ore., and his efforts to facilitate violent jihad in Afghanistan. Ujaama later testified in the trial of Oussama Kassir, who was charged with a conspiracy in connection with the Bly training camp and with operating numerous terrorist websites. Kassir was found guilty of all 11 counts against him in May 2009, and received a life sentence plus 115 years in September 2009. Ujaama’s testimony was considered instrumental in helping to secure Kassir’s conviction.
- Iyman Faris,who trained and fought in Kashmir and Afghanistan in the late 1980s, provided valuable intelligence about al-Qaeda operations, leaders and plans for attacks in the United States. Faris pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to casing a New York City bridge for al-Qaeda, and providing information to al-Qaeda on tools necessary for possible attacks on U.S. targets. He was sentenced in 2003 to 20 years in prison.
- John Walker Lindh pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2002 in the Eastern District of Virginia for supplying services to the Taliban while fighting on the Taliban’s front lines in Afghanistan. As part of his plea agreement, he provided valuable intelligence about training camps and fighting in Afghanistan.
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