Monday, May 02, 2005

Mason Graduate Convicted on Federal Terrorism Charges (with Additional Commentary)

This entry is a News article that appeared in the Monday, May 2, 2005 issue of Broadside, the official student newspaper of George Mason University. At the end, I have added my own personal commentary on the situation (I also wrote the News article.)

Ali al-Timimi, 41, (left) who recently earned a doctorate in computational biology at George Mason University , was convicted last week on ten federal counts of supporting and encouraging terrorist activities. Specifically, he was convicted of urging his followers to join Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a violent Pakistani radical group known for participating in the decade-long insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir and for attacking the Pakistani Shi’ite minority. Although the charges on which al-Timimi was convicted carry a mandatory prison sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, Federal Judge Leonie Brinkema has not ruled out tossing out some of these charges.

Al-Timimi was a frequent speaker at the Center for Islamic Information and Education, also known as Dar al-Arqam, in Falls Church, Virginia, which hosted several well-known Salafi scholars from Saudi Arabia and has come under increasing federal scrutiny since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A native of the D.C. area, he received some religious education as a young man in Saudi Arabia, though it is unclear whether he has the religious training generally expected of a traditional Sunni Muslim religious scholar.

Dar al-Arqam, which was co-founded in June 2000 by al-Timimi, has its origins in study groups made up of Muslim students at Mason who gathered on a weekly basis to hear lectures by Shaykh Ja’far Idris, an internationally-known Salafi cleric and a member of the Saudi diplomatic corps. Idris was forced to leave the U.S. in late 2003 due to increasing pressure by the federal government. Al-Timimi was one of several speakers from Dar al-Arqam that has participated in events sponsored by Mason’s Muslim Students Association.

To visit Dar al-Arqam's web site, see:

Al-Timimi, long a person of interest to federal investigators for his alleged ties to terrorism and religious extremism abroad, is widely believed to have been the unnamed “co-conspirator” mentioned in the 2004 federal indictment of eleven of his former students, in the “Paintball Jihad” case. Nine of them were ultimately convicted or pleaded guilty to traveling to Pakistan where they trained with Lashkar-e-Taiba. The three who pleaded guilty rather than go to trial were among the prosecution’s key witnesses against al-Timimi, including Yong Ki Kwon, who is currently serving an 11-year federal prison sentence.

A cornerstone of the prosecution’s case against al-Timimi were some of his own speeches and lectures, in which he lashed out against Christians and Jews, spoke of the need for Muslims to take arms against those who were oppressing them and their coreligionists around the world, and praised the Taliban. His defense attorneys, Edward MacMahon, Jr., and Alan Yamamoto, acknowledged that many of their client’s statements could be classified as hate speech, but maintained that, while repulsive, they were still protected by the First Amendment.

To view an al-Timimi support group, see:

After reading some of al-Timimi's incendiary speeches, one of which praises the brutal Taliban regime for being the "true" Islamic government, and from in-depth discussions with several people who know him, I can't say that I am sad that he was convicted. Radical Salafism, because of its absolutist ideology and tendencies to pronounce takfir (apostasy) on other Muslims who differ in practice from themselves, is a severe stain on the beauty of Islamic culture.

However, I do have some concerns about free speech, since al-Timimi did not physically do anything. Yes, he may have supported certain sets of action, but he did not force any of the "Paintball Jihadis" to go to Pakistan and train with a virulently anti-Shi'ite/anti-mainstream orthodox Sunni Lashkar-e-Taiba militant organization. So, should he really have been convicted for actions that he himself did not take part in? As much as I hate his version of Islam, I lean toward the notion that his conviction on speech alone was not appropriate. However, the greater Muslim community should ostracize him and his ilk, and always watch for them to move from words to radical action.