NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York man traveled overseas to join militant groups linked to al Qaeda and to kill U.S. troops with the aim of dying a martyr for his radical Islamic faith, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday at the start of his trial.
Betim Kaziu, 23, is an American citizen who was arrested in 2009 and accused of plotting to join an Al Qaeda-affiliated group and obtain automatic weapons to kill U.S. military serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans.
"Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist organizations have put out a call to arms," said assistant U.S. attorney Seth DuCharme during opening arguments in federal court. "Betim Kaziu answered that call."
A search of Kaziu's laptop turned up training videos and lectures from militants such as Osama bin Laden, DuCharme said, along with a series of personal communications through email, videos and social-networking sites that underscored the seriousness of his pursuit.
But Henry Steinglass, Kaziu's attorney, rebutted prosecutors' implication that the videos were anything more than Kaziu and his friends "fooling around" as they were confronted with a barrage of Internet propaganda aimed at confusing and ensnaring young Muslim men.
"Evidence will show that there are other interpretations" of the videos and other communications, Steinglass told the court. "Innocent interpretations."
Kaziu, a former doorman, is charged with conspiracy to commit murder overseas and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. If convicted he could be sentenced to life in prison.
District Judge John Gleeson has ordered an anonymous jury for the trial. Kaziu, who appeared relaxed and smiling in the courtroom, is being held without bail.
According to the indictment, the then-21-year-old concocted a scheme in January 2009 to travel overseas and join a group with the aim of fighting perceived enemies of Islam.
The indictment says he flew to Cairo in 2009, where he attempted to make arrangements to continue on to Pakistan and obtain training and other support for militant activity, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors said Kaziu tried to join Al-Shabbab, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Al-Shabbab also supports al Qaeda, prosecutors said.
Using information obtained from Kaziu's original travel companion, New York and federal law enforcement officials worked with law enforcement agents in Kosovo to arrest Kaziu in August 2009. He was charged in New York in September 2009.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Mark Egan and Bill Trott)