A northern Virginia electrician was sentenced 12 years in prison Friday for producing an online propaganda video at the behest of a militant Pakistani group designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
Jubair Ahmad, 24, of Woodbridge pleaded guilty in December in U.S. District Court to providing material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani organization that was blamed for the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.
Lashkar's notoriety has increased since then. Earlier this month, in a move that shows American officials' increasing concern about the organization, the U.S. offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of its founder, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. He responded by calling a news conference in Pakistan, where he moves openly, and mocking U.S. efforts to capture him.
The video produced by Ahmad featured Saeed prominently. It was created at the request of Saeed's son, Talha Saeed.
Prosecutors sought a maximum term of 15 years. They said that in addition to producing the propaganda video, Ahmad also received military training from Lashkar as a teenager before immigrating to the U.S. with his family and professed a wish to die as a martyr. He also tried to recruit others to join and prodded a graduate student at Seton Hall University to donate to Lashkar.
Ahmad's lawyer had asked for only a two-year term. Public defender Brian Mizer said Ahmad did not appreciate the criminality of helping Lashkar, a group that has widespread support in his native country.
Mizer also argued that a long prison term was out of line, given that there is no evidence that Ahmad's video was ever widely disseminated on YouTube and that other terrorism cases have resulted in lesser sentences, including individuals who provided material support to al-Qaida.
Under normal circumstances, Mizer argued, Ahmad's advocacy for Lashkar would be constitutionally protected free speech. The only reason it's criminal is because he produced it at Lashkar's request, in consultation with Saeed.
The 12-year term imposed by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III is "a fairly harsh sentence for rhetoric online as opposed to action in the real world," Mizer said after the hearing.
But prosecutors said the production of online propaganda must be taken seriously as it has become a prime recruiting tool.
"We've seen a sharp increase in terrorists' use of social networking services like YouTube to reach a worldwide audience," said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil MacBride, whose office prosecuted the case.