A Texas man accused of attempting to sneak out of the country with restricted U.S. military documents, money and equipment in order to join al-Qaida was convicted Monday of trying to help the terrorist organization.
Barry Walter Bujol Jr. was convicted of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and aggravated identity theft. He faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 8.
Bujol, who is a U.S. citizen, represented himself at his trial, which was heard at his request by a judge instead of a jury. The verdict by U.S. District Judge David Hittner came after a trial that lasted less than four days, with testimony ending last week.
Bujol, who was handcuffed, wore leg irons and sat when the verdict was read, did not appear to react after Hittner announced his decision.
"The prosecution of this case and its result should serve as a deterrent and sends a clear message to anyone contemplating the illegal support of terrorist organizations," said U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. "This office will continue to vigorously pursue all cases involving those who attempt to engage in similar illegal activities."
Bujol had dismissed his court-appointed attorneys, but one of his former lawyers, Edward Mallett, was on hand during the trial to answer legal questions. Mallett declined to comment.
Prosecutors said Bujol sought to join al-Qaida and to provide it with money, the documents and GPS equipment. He was arrested in May 2010 after a two-year investigation and was taken into custody after using fake identification to sneak into a Houston port and board a ship bound for the Middle East, authorities said.
But the 30-year-old said he never sought to harm the United States or any American, and the reason he wanted to leave the country was due to his displeasure with U.S. foreign policy. He said he wanted to become a better Muslim.
An FBI agent testified that authorities used an undercover informant who befriended Bujol and posed as a recruiter for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to find out if he was serious about joining the terrorist group. The informant, who isn't a law enforcement agent, testified at the trial, using a mask and a partition to protect his identity.
Authorities said Bujol agreed to a plan in which the informant would help him travel to the Middle East by sneaking him on the ship at the Houston port. The plan also called for Bujol taking to al-Qaida operatives a bag the informant had given him that contained GPS receivers, two nonpublic restricted-access Army manuals and other items.
Authorities said Bujol had previously made three unsuccessful attempts during February and March 2009 to travel to Yemen or elsewhere in the Middle East.
Prosecutors also alleged Bujol exchanged emails with the U.S.-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who had ties to al-Qaida.
Al-Awlaki, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in September in Yemen, is also alleged to have exchanged emails with Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people in the November 2009 shootings at Fort Hood in Texas.
According to court documents, Bujol used at least 14 email addresses to hide his activities from authorities and he advocated attacking U.S. facilities where military weapons were manufactured.
Bujol, who lived in Hempstead, about 50 miles northwest of Houston and was a student at nearby Prairie View A&M University, had been set to plead guilty in the case in October 2010, but changed his mind.