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Judge assigns anonymous jury for US student’s terrorism trial

By Associated Press
Monday, April 26, 2010 18:36 EDT
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A judge ruled Monday that an anonymous jury will hear the trial of an American student accused of lending support to al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska said the seriousness of the conspiracy and material support for terrorism charges against Syed Hashmi, the allegation he has followers and high media interest make it necessary to protect jurors’ identities when the trial begins Wednesday.

Prosecutors had cited those factors in court papers when they requested anonymity for jurors, saying the man accused of enthusiastically declaring his support for jihad and the killing of non-Muslims “had a number of like-minded followers right here in New York City.”

The government said jurors “will see in the gallery of the courtroom a significant number of the defendant’s supporters, naturally leading to juror speculation that at least some of these spectators might share the defendant’s violent radical Islamic leanings.”

Lawyers for Hashmi had argued in court papers that an anonymous jury would poison the trial’s atmosphere and create the impression that their client is guilty and dangerous. They said what prosecutors called followers were merely family and friends.

Anonymous juries have been used numerous times in the past in federal court in Manhattan, including at the trials of major drug gang leaders, the organized crime trials of John “Junior” Gotti and most major terrorism trials, including in the 1990s when men were convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and in a plot to blow up New York City landmarks.

Hashmi, 30, who faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted, lived in Queens until he moved to London in 2003. Prosecutors say that while living there, he belonged to a radical Islamic organization that supported the overthrow of Western society.

Prosecutors said evidence to be introduced at Hashmi’s trial will show he was living in London in early 2004 when he let a cooperating witness store bags of clothing and gear at his apartment, knowing that it would be delivered to an al-Qaida military commander who was in charge of soldiers fighting Americans and others in Afghanistan.

They said Hashmi also provided cash to the cooperating witness, knowing it would be used to buy an airline ticket to travel from London to Pakistan to deliver the gear to al-Qaida members.

Prosecutors said law enforcement officers who participated in Hashmi’s 2006 arrest will testify that Hashmi violently resisted arrest by trying to kick and bite the officers before telling them he was happy about the deaths of U.S. and British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Defense attorneys said in their submissions that prosecutors had exaggerated the facts.

“At the core, the government accuses Mr. Hashmi of allowing a friend: (1) to store some waterproof socks, ponchos, and raincoats for a couple of days; (2) to borrow a cell phone; and (3) to borrow around $300 in cash. There is no charge that Mr. Hashmi committed any act of violence, engaged in weapons trafficking, or attempted to make any personal contact with members of al-Qaida, much less that he actually was a member of al-Qaida,” the lawyers wrote.

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