NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) – A federal judge preparing to sentence a British citizen for supporting terrorists in Afghanistan challenged U.S. prosecutors Friday on their claim that the defendant supported al-Qaida.
Babar Ahmad’s support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan didn’t necessarily mean he supported al-Qaida, Judge Janet Hall said during a hearing in New Haven. She cited the testimony of a government cooperating witness who denied Ahmad supported al-Qaida.
“Your own witness doesn’t support that,” Hall said. “Fighting against U.S. forces doesn’t necessarily equate to support of al-Qaida. To me al-Qaida is being protected so it can go elsewhere and do acts of terrorism.”
Prosecutor Stephen Reynolds said Ahmad was not a member of al-Qaida but became sympathetic to the terrorist group and sent people to its training camps.
Hall is weighing the scope of Ahmad’s conduct for his sentencing next week.
Prosecutors say he deserves a 25-year sentence, calling his support far-reaching. Ahmad’s attorney says prosecutors overstated the case and that the 10 years he already has served in prison is enough.
Ahmad and a co-defendant, Syed Talha Ahsan, pleaded guilty in December to supporting terrorists through websites that sought to raise cash, recruit fighters and solicit items such as gas masks for the Taliban.
The two men, who were extradited from Britain in 2012, faced charges in Connecticut because authorities said they used an Internet service provider in the state to run one of the websites.
The cooperating witness said Ahmad urged him to try to meet al-Qaida’s then-leader, Osama bin Laden, prosecutors said. That witness testified in a recent deposition that while he and Ahmad were in Afghanistan in January 2001, the witness saw bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders, though Ahmad denied going to Afghanistan, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said they have not claimed Ahmad or Ahsan were involved in any operational terrorist plots or attacks.
Ahmad’s attorneys say he was “horrified” by the Sept. 11 attacks and publicly condemned them. They say prosecutors have gone to “desperate lengths” to try to connect Ahmad and the case to al-Qaida.
Prosecutors say Ahmad supported violent jihad in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Ahmad says he tried to help Muslims under attack in Bosnia and Chechnya and that he deeply regrets his support for the Taliban.
Ahsan is also seeking a sentence of time served for what his attorney called his peripheral involvement in the case.