CLEVELAND - Three Ohio men were convicted yesterday of plotting to recruit and train terrorists to kill American soldiers in Iraq, a case put together with help from a former soldier who posed as a radical bent on violence.
Mohammad Amawi, 28, Marwan El-Hindi, 45, and Wassim Mazloum, 27, face maximum sentences of life in prison. Prosecutors said the men were learning to shoot guns and make explosives while raising money to fund their plans to wage a holy war against US troops.
The federal jury in Toledo returned its verdict after three days of deliberations. US District Judge James G. Carr did not set a sentencing date, said acting US attorney Bill Edwards.
"Today's verdicts should send a strong message to individuals who would use this country as a platform to plot attacks against US military personnel in Iraq and elsewhere," said Patrick Rowan, acting assistant attorney general for national security, in a written statement. "This case also underscores the need for continued vigilance in identifying and dismantling extremist plots that develop in America's heartland."
Messages seeking comment from defense attorneys were not returned. At trial they claimed that the three defendants, who all lived in the Toledo area, were manipulated by the government's star witness, Darren Griffin.
The undercover FBI informant and former Army Special Forces soldier recorded the men for about two years beginning in 2004 while they talked about training in explosives, guns, and sniper tactics. They often met in their homes and at a tiny storefront mosque where they prayed together.
Defense attorneys noted that Griffin was involved in all conversations the prosecution presented to the jury, and that there was no evidence of conversations or e-mails dealing with the alleged plot among only the defendants.
Griffin won the trust of the men by posing as a former soldier who grew disenchanted with US foreign policy and was now intent on violence against America. Prosecutors said even Griffin's family had been under the impression that he had become a radical.
Griffin said that most people at the mosque shunned him, and that no one raised any threats until Hindi began talking about kidnapping Israeli soldiers. Amawi, Griffin said, asked him to help him train two recruits from Chicago for holy war.
On one secret recording made by Griffin, Amawi says he was troubled by the loss of life in New York in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but he quickly adds, "Killing Americans in Iraq is OK."
Griffin testified that he twice traveled to Jordan with Amawi and also taught Amawi and Mazloum how to shoot guns.
On another tape, which was played in court, Hindi tells Griffin that he knew two cousins who were eager to receive "jihad training." Griffin asks Hindi if he is recruiting for jihad.
"Oh, no, I just want to take these two," Hindi answers
The two Chicago-area cousins - Khaleel Ahmed of Chicago and Zubair A. Ahmed of suburban North Chicago - have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to kill US soldiers and face trial next year.
Amawi, Hindi, and Mazloum were convicted of conspiring to kill or maim people outside the United States, including military personnel. Amawi and Hindi were also convicted of distributing information regarding explosives to terrorists.
Defense attorneys said Griffin lied and manipulated the defendants by putting words in their mouths so that he could stay on the government payroll.