By Ned Barnett
RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - A federal jury found three North Carolina men guilty on Thursday of conspiring to provide material support to Islamist militants in foreign countries.
The jury heard three weeks of testimony and deliberated over two days in New Bern before rendering the guilty verdicts against Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, Ziyad Yaghi and Hysen Sherifi.
Hassan and Yaghi are U.S. citizens. Sherifi, a native of Kosovo, is a legal permanent resident of the United States, according to the indictment.
The defendants, all young men in their 20s, were among seven men arrested in July 2009 on charges of conspiring to support what the indictment called "violent jihad" overseas.
Three other defendants in the case, including the plot's ringleader, Muslim convert Daniel Patrick Boyd, and his two sons, Dylan and Zakariya Boyd, have admitted guilt to some charges as part of plea deals and are awaiting sentencing.
A final defendant, Anes Subasic, is awaiting trial.
The indictment said Boyd, a drywall contractor from Willow Spring, North Carolina, had drawn his sons and the other men into a plan to travel abroad to help Islamist militants, although prosecutors have said there was no indication they were linked to any international militant organization.
It said Boyd led what was described as a "conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim or injure persons in a foreign country," and that the defendants were "prepared to become 'mujihadeen' and die...as martyrs in furtherance of violent jihad."
The indictment said Boyd had traveled between 1989 and 1992 to Pakistan and Afghanistan, "where he received military-style training in terrorist training camps for the purpose of engaging in violent jihad."
It added that from at least November 2006, when the federal investigation began, through July 2009, Boyd conspired with the other defendants "to provide material support and resources to terrorists, including currency, training, transportation and personnel."
Boyd and Sherifi were also accused of conspiring to kill U.S. military personnel "in an attack on government and military installations in Virginia and elsewhere."
GUILTY ON CONSPIRACY COUNTS
The jury found Sherifi guilty on five counts, including three counts of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists; to murder, kidnap, maim and injure persons; and to kill a federal officer or employee. He also was convicted of two counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.
The jury found Yaghi guilty on two counts of conspiracy. Hassan was convicted on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, but acquitted on a second count of conspiring to murder, kidnap, maim and injure people, court records show.
The government's case was based largely on secretly recorded conversations between the defendants and statements from a confidential informant.
Mauri Saalakhan, director of the Peace Through Justice Foundation, based in the Washington D.C. area, attended closing arguments in New Bern and criticized the convictions, saying he believed they were brought about by "a post-9/11 atmosphere of fear and patriotism."
Saalakhan said the defendants' lawyers argued that the men had done nothing more than make provocative statements, and said in his view the government had not demonstrated an actual intent to aid or carry out acts of terrorism.
"I just feel it was a terrible miscarriage of justice that doesn't make America any safer," Saalakhan said. "Given the constitutional principals we stand for, this kind of victory for the government makes us less safe."
Robin Zier, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh, said the government would have no comment on the case due to a gag order that remained in effect on Thursday. Attempts to reach lawyers for the defendants were unsuccessful.
(Edited by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Johnston)