The Virginia Jihad Network Case (aka, The Paintball Case)
What It's Really All About?!
This case began with the indictment of eleven young Muslim men by a federal grand jury in June of 2003. They were indicted on an assortment of weapons counts, and for an alleged conspiracy to wage war - in concert with a South Asian jihadi organization known as Lashkar-e-Taiba - against a nation with whom America is at peace (a violation of a statute known as the “Neutrality Act”). In short, they stand accused of conspiring to wage war against India over its brutal occupation of Kashmir. The proof of this alleged conspiracy? Their semi-secretive indulgence in a rapidly growing American pastime known as Paintball Games!
The mainstream media’s reportage on this case has thus far been predictable. On the day the trial began (Monday, February 9th), National Public Radio filed a report basically outlining the government’s case against the accused; while the Tuesday, February 10th, edition of the Washington Times ended a front page report titled, “Islamic extremists invade US, join sleeper cells,” with the following: “Eleven men, including nine US citizens, were arrested last year in Virginia in what authorities called the ‘Virginia jihad.’ The men were accused in a 41 count grand jury indictment of engaging in ‘holy jihad’ to drive India out of the disputed Kashmir territory. Six have since pleaded guilty.”
For its part, the Washington post had an article in its Thursday, Feb. 12th edition under the headline, “Jihad Trial Witness Says Paintball Was Training Drill.” A representative excerpt reads, “But while defense lawyers said in opening statements this week that the paintball games were harmless fun intended only as exercise, prosecutors have charged that they were used to simulate combat in preparation for violent jihad.” (Leading your average reader to conclude, ‘Ok, we got ‘em. Case closed.)
For the most part, it does appear that the guardians of democracy (media) have basically accepted the government’s indictment of the accused on face value – without taking the time to investigate, research, or ask hard questions in an effort to uncover the truth. What they see is that six have “pleaded guilty,” and among these, three have admitted to going overseas to visit “training camps.” Consequently, the five holdouts (four of whom are presently on trial) must be guilty by association.
The Charges and "Superceding Indictment"
In September 2003, after the government failed in its attempt to frighten all of the “defendants” into accepting plea agreements, the seven holdouts were charged in a superseding indictment with additional offenses. The government sent the message loud and clear that it was time to play hardball; that if the holdouts decided to go to trial and lose, they would pay a heavy price – the remainder of their productive lives in prison.
It should be noted for the record that these are all YOUNG MEN; most of whom WITH YOUNG FAMILIES! Our purpose here is to provide some in-depth and comprehensive background information on the case, so that the reader will be able to better understand what the issues are, and be in a better position to make an informed judgment on this important precedent-setting case.
The indictment in the case known as: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. RANDALL TODD ROYER, et. al. (Criminal No. 03-296-A) reads as follows:
Count 1: 18 USC-371 Conspiracy
Count 2: 18 USC-2384 Conspiracy to Levy War Against the US
Count 3: 18 USC 2339B Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to Al-Qaeda
Count 4: 50 USC 1705 Conspiracy to Contribute Services to the Taliban
Count 5: 18 USC 2339A Conspiracy to Contribute Material Support to Lashkar-e-Taiba
Count 6: 50 USC 1705 Supplying Services to the Taliban
Counts 7-10: 18 USC 960 Commencing an Expedition Against a Friendly Nation
Count 11: 18 USC 924(o) Conspiracy to Possess and Use Firearms in Connection with a Crime of Violence
Counts 12-14: 18 USC 924(b) Receipt of Firearm or Ammunition with Cause to Believe a Felony will be Committed Therewith
Counts 15-16: 18 USC 1001(a) False Official Statements
Counts 17-32: 18 USC 924( c) Using Firearm in Connection with a Crime of Violence
The men who are presently on trial face the following charges:
Masoud Ahmed Khan (Counts 1-5, 8, 10-11, 24-27, 32)
Seifullah Chapman (Counts 1, 5, 8-9, 11, 15, 19-22, 24-28)
Hammad Abdur-Raheem (Counts 1, 5, 8, 10-14, 19, 24-27, 31)
Caliph Basha Ibn Abdur-Raheem (Counts 1, 11, 13-14, 21, 30)
Sabri Benkhala (who is scheduled to go on trial in March, insha’Allah), faces Counts 6 and 16-17, according to the federal indictment dated September 25, 2003.
How it fits with the “War on Terrorism”
About a year and a half ago, an article appeared in New York City’s Village Voice newspaper titled, “Court Jousters: A Small Cartel of Conservative Lawyers Rewrites the American Rule.” (Village Voice, June 25, 2002). In the course of this revealing article, [then] Deputy US Attorney General Viet Dinh became the first government official (for this writer anyway) to openly admit the US government has been engaged in racial (and religious) profiling in its “War on Terrorism.” Mr. Dinh reportedly said, “The US does use racial profiling – not for identification, but for investigation.”
When questioned on the criteria employed for such profiling, he responded, “The criteria Al Qaeda itself uses. Eighteen to 35 year old males who entered the country after the start of 2000 using passports from countries where Al Qaeda has a strong presence.” (By the US government’s theory and practice, this could be any predominantly Muslim populated nation.) But that isn’t all. In his mid-January 2002 address to the American Bar Association conference in Naples (FL), Mr. Dinh arrogantly stated:
“We are reticent to provide a road map to Al Qaeda as to the progress and direction of our investigative activity. We don’t want to taint people as being of interest to the investigation simply because of our attention. We will let them go if there is not enough of a predicate to hold them. But we will follow them closely, AND IF THEY SO MUCH AS SPIT ON THE SIDEWALK WE’LL ARREST THEM. The message is that if you are a suspected terrorist you better be squeaky clean. IF WE CAN, WE WILL KEEP YOU IN JAIL.” (Emphasis mine)
This, in a nutshell, is what the so-called “Virginia Jihad” or “Paintball Case” is all about. It’s about a group of young Muslim males between the ages of “18 to 35” playing PAINTBALL (equivalent to “spitting on the sidewalk”) with, according to the government, a conspiratorial agenda! Can we back such an assertion up with proof? Absolutely!
In addressing the court on the day of opening arguments, the lead prosecutor, Mr. Kromberg, admitted, “Most of the evidence in this case will be provided by cooperators” - compromised co-defendants in the case who, under pressure from the government and their respective defense attorneys, accepted plea agreements for significantly less sentences than they would have received if they were to go to trial and be found guilty. (Six of the accused have accepted such plea agreements.)
The Uncontested Facts
The uncontested “facts” of the case are as follows:
(1) A group of young Muslim men began, sometime in the summer of 2000, to indulge in one of the fastest growing American pastimes, Paintball. The group of paintball playing Muslims (whose numbers would fluctuate), indulged in the games on average twice a month - until the attacks of September 11, 2001.
(2) Some of the men came from military backgrounds, and used their prior military training to instruct other players in a way that made the Paintball Games more competitive.
(3) Some of the men listened to lectures (which sometimes focused upon the doctrine of jihad), and discussed the assaults being committed against Muslim peoples in other parts of the world (i.e., Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine, etc.); some of the men saw videos of actual combat from the battle fields of Chechnya.
(4) A few of the men had been overseas, and visited a Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp BEFORE it was officially designated a “Terrorist organization” by the US government. (Lashkar-e-Taiba is an armed Muslim resistance organization struggling against India’s brutal occupation of Kashmir.)
Beyond these uncontested and circumstantial “facts,” however, there is little hard evidence to support the aforementioned indictment.
Paintball in America
The Christian Paintball Players Association (CPPA) was started in 1996 and reportedly has members in every state and more than half a dozen countries including Canada, Brazil, Korea, and Australia. Its Ohio chapter – the Ohio Christian Paintball Players Association (www.ohiocppa.org) – is looking to start church leagues statewide to compete in Saturday tournaments. You heard it right, an activity that many still consider an extreme sport has made it well into the American mainstream, and is regularly enjoyed by millions of people from varied racial, religious and socio-economic backgrounds around the US.
In recent testimony, in the case known as UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. RANDALL TODD ROYER, et. al. (Criminal No. 03-296-A), the court heard from a paintball expert who testified, among other things, that all types of groups and people of all ages play paintball – involving an assortment of creative, expensive, and time consuming games and scenarios. The expert cited one such example known as D-Day Oklahoma - which features a military theme (German team vs. Allied team) - that went on day and night with about 3,000 players last year.
This “expert” also noted on the witness stand that the wearing of camouflage and military gear is common place in the sport, as is instruction in maneuvers and defensive techniques which make the games more competitive.
Overseas Training Camps
Of the four young men currently on trial, Masoud Ahmed Khan faces the most serious charges, which include “Conspiracy to contribute services to the Taliban” and “Conspiracy to levy war against the US.” The basis for these charges is the admitted visit that Masoud made to Pakistan for the primary purpose of resolving some rather onerous family business, following the death of his father. The government contends that his primary purpose was to visit a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) training camp in Kashmir, in order to train for jihad against US forces in Afghanistan. Since Masoud never made it to Afghanistan, the government’s emphasis has been on his visit to the LET camp, and on what Masoud’s alleged intent was according to government “cooperators.”
Masoud admits to having visited a Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp; but he insists that the training camp experience was primarily about getting into shape and reducing stress. It is also important to note that this visit occurred before Lashkar-e-Taiba (on the advice of foreign intelligence) was listed as a “terrorist organization” by the US government; and therefore, Masoud’s visit, whatever his “intent,” was not illegal!
No doubt, there are some who will read this and conclude Masoud’s visit to the LET camp is the “smoking gun” pointing to his guilt. However, for those of you who can still be reached by reasoned argument, I offer the following. How many of you have heard of the Marva Army Experience Program? Not many? I didn’t think so.
Marva is part of the Young Judea Year Course in Israel, sponsored by the Israeli Army and the Jewish Agency. Marva reportedly consists of two months of a simulated basic training program involving hikes, marches, navigation, weapons training, simulated combat, military ceremonies and a study of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) history. Its stated purpose is to expose foreign students to the problems and challenges facing the Israeli Army and the role of the Israeli Defense Force within the country.
When one considers the FACT that: (a) a large part of “Greater Israel” is internationally recognized “Occupied Territory” (established in gross violation of international law); (b) the FACT that the IDF has been an indispensable instrument in this illegal occupation; (c) the FACT that young American Jewish citizens are among those who participate in the Marva program; and (d) the FACT that, of these American-born participants, a significant number will go on to become an official part of this internationally recognized illegal occupation (in one of the most explosive parts of the world) – with this in mind, condemnation of any young Muslim for attending a training camp in the disputed territory of Kashmir reveals a double standard of the highest order.
To read more about Marva please visit: www.funtour.co.il/other_opportunities-marva_daniel.html and www.fzy.org.uk/yearcourse/security/nili/
Selective Prosecutions and Plea-bargains
There is another issue that should be considered of deep significance; the selective use of the rarely enforced “Neutrality Act” – making war (or in this case, conspiring to make war) against a nation with whom America is at peace.
That this particular case reflects the selectively applied use of this rarely applied “law” is without question. Case(s) in point:
- American Zionists (both Jewish and Christian Fundamentalist) who openly support, through a variety of means, the brutal occupation and subjugation of Palestine and its people.
- Cuban Americans who covertly (and sometimes openly) support the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Fidel Castro.
- Irish Americans (and others) who for years have openly given material support to the political wing (Sein Fein) of the Irish Republican Army (IRA); another political entity officially designated by the US Department of State as a “terrorist organization.”
I could go on and on. I believe, however, the point has been sufficiently made.
As for the plea agreements that some Muslim defendants have reached with government prosecutors, I cite the following excerpt from page 86 of our book entitled, The State of the Union 2003: Don’t Say You Didn’t Know!
“In concluding this chapter I feel that I should caution the reader against giving too much weight to any reports of accused Muslims plea bargaining to alleged acts of terrorism (as in the case of the so-called “American Taliban,” John Walker Lindh). While we as a nation pay lip service to the principle of due process and a presumption of innocence, and the right of the accused to a trial before a jury of his or her peers – the reality is that accused persons who come from socially and/or politically marginalized communities or groups, are severely punished at the end of the day, if found guilty, for even attempting to avail themselves of such constitutional guarantees!”
This is a fact. And this is what the “plea agreements” in this troubling case are really all about; the fearful capitulation by several young men to the possibility of life in prison. We now conclude with what this case, in our humble view, is really all about.
The Bill of Rights and America’s Soul
At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in 1789, Benjamin Franklin was asked, “What have you wrought?” He responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
In a collective effort to better safeguard and advance the ideals of the newly established American republic, the Founding Fathers drafted what is widely considered to be the heart and soul of the US Constitution – The Bill of Rights. The First Amendment, in particular, is right at the heart of this case (ie, freedom of religion and speech), as well as the right to freedom of conscience and association.
In conclusion, this case is really about the “Two Americas” that the late Sen. J. William Fulbright so ably described in his thought-provoking book entitled, “The Arrogance of Power” – and which of these “Two Americas” will emerge triumphant from the struggle currently being waged for America’s soul. Indeed, the "Virginia Jihad Network [or Paintball] Case," properly understood, is but one of many metaphors of this ongoing struggle. And the struggle must continue…
El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan
Director of Operations
The Peace And Justice Foundation