NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A British citizen who pleaded guilty in Connecticut to supporting terrorists through websites should get a 25-year prison sentence, federal prosecutors say, calling his support "robust, far-reaching and virtually unprecedented in its scope."
Babar Ahmad supported violent jihad in Afghanistan and Chechnya, prosecutors said this week in court papers. They say the websites were among the first of their kind.
"Simply put, up to and by the time of his arrest in 2004, the scope and significance of the fundraising, military equipment, communication equipment, lodging, training, expert advice and assistance and personnel that Babar Ahmad had provided and was providing to the Chechen mujahideen, the Taliban and al-Qaida made him a particularly dangerous individual and this court should be troubled by Ahmad's apparent unwillingness to show a genuine appreciation of, or demonstrate genuine remorse for, the entirety of his actions," prosecutors wrote.
Ahmad's attorneys say the 10 years their client already spent in prison are enough punishment, saying he was trying to help Muslims under attack in Bosnia and Chechnya and that he deeply regrets his support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. They say the case is being closely watched in the Muslim world to see if a fair sentence will be imposed in July.
"This case now involves, whether we like it or not, a battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world," Ahmad's attorneys wrote. "We do not win this battle for hearts and minds with harshness or excess. We win it with justice."
Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan pleaded guilty in December to supporting terrorists through websites that sought to raise cash, recruit fighters and solicit items such as gas masks for the Taliban regime. Ahmad faces up to 25 years in prison and Ahsan faces up to 15.
The two men, who were extradited from Britain in 2012, faced charges in Connecticut because authorities said they used an Internet service provider in the state to run one of the websites.
Ahmad also sent people to training camps in Afghanistan, including one who said he urged him to try to meet al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, prosecutors said. That witness testified in a recent deposition that while he and Ahmad were in Afghanistan in January 2001, the witness saw bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders, though Ahmad denied going to Afghanistan, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said they have not claimed Ahmad or Ahsan were involved in any operational terrorist plots or attacks. They say Ahmad was not a member of al-Qaida but was sympathetic to and provided support for its cause.
Ahmad's attorneys say he was "horrified" by the Sept. 11 attacks and publicly condemned them. They say prosecutors have gone to "desperate lengths" to try to connect Ahmad and the case to al-Qaeda and said even the government's own witness said Ahmad did not support al-Qaeda or killing civilians.
"In short, the government should not be allowed to prejudice this case with baseless suggestions and innuendos that Mr. Ahmad or his websites supported al-Qaeda," his attorneys wrote.
Ahsan is also seeking a sentence of time served for what his attorney called his peripheral involvement in the case.