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Member of Afghan Taliban Sentenced to Life in Prison in Nations First Conviction on Narco-terror Charges
WASHINGTON – A member of an Afghan Taliban cell was sentenced today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to two terms of life in prison on drug and narco-terrorism charges, Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich of the Criminal Division announced.
Khan Mohammed, 38, was ordered by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to serve the two life sentences concurrently as well as 60 months of supervised release, served consecutively, for each of the two counts of conviction following the prison term. Mohammed was convicted on May 15, 2008, after a seven-day jury trial on one count of distribution of one kilogram or more of heroin knowing and intending that it be imported into the United States and one count of narco-terrorism, or the distribution of a controlled substance (in this case heroin and opium) in order to provide something of pecuniary value to a person or group that has engaged or is engaging in terrorist activity. The conviction represented the first time a defendant had been convicted in U.S. federal court of narco-terrorism since the statute was enacted in March 2006.
Mohammed, an Afghan national, was arrested on Oct. 29, 2006, near Jalalabad, Nangahar Province, Afghanistan. Mohammed waived extradition and was brought from Afghanistan to the United States in November 2007.
"A violent jihadist and narcotics trafficker, Khan Mohammed sought to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan using rockets," said Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division Matthew Friedrich. "Today's life sentences match the gravity of the crimes for which he was convicted."
"The conclusion of Khan Mohammed’s prosecution demonstrates DEA’s ability and determination to go to the far corners of the world to bring to justice narco-terrorists who seek to harm Americans," said DEA Acting Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. "Today's strong sentence in this groundbreaking case is the result that can be expected by those who support terrorism by trafficking in narcotics."
The evidence at trial established the following:
- The investigation began in August 2006 when a concerned Afghan farmer (testifying under the pseudonym "Jaweed") approached Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents through local Afghan law enforcement. He provided them with information that the Taliban in Peshawar, Pakistan, had attempted to recruit him to conduct a rocket attack on the Jalalabad Airfield, a facility used jointly by U.S. and NATO forces in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. The Taliban identified their local operations coordinator as Khan Mohammed, who was then a village elder in the Chaprahar District of Nangarhar Province, and with whom Jaweed was familiar.
- Jaweed, agreeing to wear a recording device, met with Mohammed, who discussed prior attacks he had committed on government vehicles and facilities, confirmed that he was aware of the plan to attack the airfield, and discussed with Jaweed acquiring rockets and other munitions to conduct attacks on Americans, other Westerners and those Afghans who collaborated with them, stating "[t]he Americans are infidels and Jihad is allowed against them. If we have to fire [the missiles] toward the airport, we will do it and if not the airport, wherever they are stationed we will fire at their base too. I mean we have to use the mines too. God willing, we and you will keep doing our Jihad." Frequently during later conversations, additional references were made by Mohammed concerning the need to obtain rockets, meetings planned with other Taliban members, and the need to eliminate "infidels," a term Mohammed used to identify Americans, British, and other coalition forces, as well as Afghan citizens who assisted them. Evidence introduced at trial also proved that Mohammed previously engaged in similar terrorist rocket attacks against Afghan government targets.
- During their initial interviews of Jaweed, the DEA agents were told that Mohammed had previously been involved in opium and heroin trafficking. This was later confirmed by Mohammed during several recorded conversations. Over this series of recorded conversations, Mohammed agreed to act as a broker for the purchase of opium, selecting the opium seller and negotiating on Jaweed’s behalf.
- In mid-September 2006, Mohammed accompanied Jaweed to an opium dealer’s house, where, on videotape shown at trial, Mohammed was seen inspecting opium, handling negotiations and assisting Jaweed in the purchase of 11 kilograms. On later learning that the opium was intended for conversion into heroin to be imported into the United States, Mohammed replied, "[G]ood, may God turn all the infidels to dead corpses."
- After purchasing the opium, Mohammed expressed his willingness to also sell heroin, particularly since it would be going to the United States. As Mohammed stated at various times, "Jihad would be performed since they send it to America," and "[m]ay God eliminate them right now, and we will eliminate them too. Whether it is by opium or by shooting, this is our common goal. . ." At the request of the DEA, Jaweed approached Mohammed to purchase heroin. On Oct. 18, 2006, Mohammed was seen on videotape shown at trial, in the presence of his four-year-old son, distributing two kilograms of heroin to Jaweed.
According the evidence presented at trial, the Taliban are an ultraconservative, Islamic militia that has continued to mount an insurgency against the Afghan government since it was removed from power in Afghanistan by Coalition forces in late 2001. According to court documents, as early as 1999, when the Taliban controlled much of Afghanistan, the United States recognized that they were facilitators of terrorism. DEA agents testified at trial that the Taliban has taken on a central role in every stage of opium/heroin production and transportation, relying on it as a principal source of funding for its activities. One agent testified that more than 50 percent of DEA cases have a definitive Taliban dimension.
The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorney Matthew Stiglitz, Deputy Chief for Litigation Julius Rothstein and paralegal
Arianne Tice from the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section. The investigation was led by the DEA, in close cooperation with Afghan law enforcement.