Lawyers presented closing statements Tuesday in the federal terrorism trial of three young North Carolina Muslims charged with conspiring to take part in a jihadist plot to kill non-Muslims overseas.
The case goes to a jury Wednesday after a three-week trial in which the ringleader of the alleged plot testified for the government in a plea deal.
Daniel Boyd, 41, a Marine officer’s son who converted to Islam as a teenager, testified against Omar Aly Hassan, Ziyad Yaghi and Hysen Sherifi. The three men, from Raleigh, N.C., were indicted along with Boyd and Boyd’s two sons in 2009 on charges of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists.
Daniel Boyd and his sons, Dylan Boyd, 24, and Zakariya Boyd, 21, pleaded guilty and testified against their co-defendants. They will be sentenced after the trial.
Jason Kellhofer, a federal prosecutor, said the defendants were motivated by "hate -- quite a lot of hate." He told jurors that the alleged jihad plot involved "murderous intent based on a twisted view of a religion, Islam."
Kellhofer ridiculed defense claims that the young men discussed jihad as a form of internal religious struggle. "What it means in reality ... is to kill innocent people," he said.
Prosecutors said the defendants underwent weapons training, firing guns in preparation for jihadist attacks. The men also traveled to the Middle East to scout "battlegrounds" for conducting jihad, they charged.
Defense lawyers said the three young men were guilty only of monumentally poor judgment and youthful bravado in openly praising Al Qaeda and longing for jihad. Especially damning were Facebook raps extolling violence against non-Muslims, including the line, "I smoke a Jew like a ciggy."
Dan Boyce, representing Hassan, dismissed it as "Muslim gangster rap."
"This was stupid stuff by teenagers," Boyce told the jury. "But Muslim gangster rap doesn’t mean you’re a terrorist."
Kellhofer, the prosecutor, said the intent of the lyrics went far beyond "the new jihad cool."
"It’s not a defense," he said.
Boyce countered later: "Are bad words about bad conduct enough to prove a crime?"
He said prosecutors, in their haste to build a case against Muslims who came into contact with Boyd, reduced the defendants to "collateral damage" or "by-catch" -- fish unintentionally caught in a fishing net.
Boyce said the defendants' comments about jihad, no matter how offensive, were protected free speech. And firing guns at targets -- a popular pastime in rural North Carolina -- is protected by the 2nd Amendment, he said.
Prosecutors amassed 750 hours of audio and videotape, some of it collected by paid FBI informants who secretly recorded the defendants. FBI agents said they seized nearly two dozen guns and 27,000 rounds of ammunition buried in a bunker under Daniel Boyd’s home.
Hassan, 22, Sherifi, 24, and Yaghi, 21, graduated from or attended high schools in the Raleigh area, and Hassan attended N.C. State University. All three speak fluent English and are intimately acquainted with American youth culture.
Hassan and Yaghi are American citizens. Sherifi, a native of Kosovo, is a permanent U.S. resident.
--David Zucchino in New Bern, N.C.
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-- David Zucchino in New Bern, N.C.
Photo: Supporters gather outside U.S. District Court in New Bern, N.C., on Tuesday, Oct. 11, in the terrorist trial of three North Carolina men charged with being part of a conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., or targets overseas. Credit: AP / Sun Journal, Chuck Beckley