RALEIGH, N.C. — A convicted Triangle terrorist was convicted Thursday on federal charges of plotting to kill government witnesses who testified against him in his 2011 terrorism trial.
Hysen Sherifi, 28, was found guilty on nine counts involving conspiring to commit a murder-for-hire. Prosecutors said he enlisted the help of his younger brother and a female friend to pay a hit man to carry out the killings against three witnesses and three law enforcement officers.
He faces a potential maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Sentencing has been scheduled for Feb. 4.
An FBI informant accepted $5,000 in payment and then provided faked photos appearing to show a beheaded corpse as confirmation of the hit, federal prosecutors argued.
Sherifi, who represented himself, called no witnesses to testify on his behalf.
Frequently during the trial, he erupted in outbursts and at times preached to jurors, causing U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt either to warn him about his actions or to remove him from the courtroom.
As he was escorted from court Thursday, he yelled at Britt: "I find you guilty of conspiracy with Satan."
The jury deliberated for a little more than an hour Thursday before reaching its verdict in the four-day trial.
“Thanks to a coordinated law enforcement effort, Hysen Sherifi’s jailhouse plot to behead federal agents and witnesses involved in his prior terrorism prosecution was thwarted before anyone was harmed. Today, he is being held accountable for his actions,” said Lisa Monaco, assistant attorney general for national security. “I applaud the agents and prosecutors responsible for this successful prosecution.”
Prosecutors said Sherifi was already in custody at the New Hanover County Detention Facility in the terrorism case in October 2011 when he asked another inmate in the same lockup to help him hire a hit man.
The fellow inmate contacted the FBI, allowing federal agents to set up a sting operation that included a confidential informant posing as the representative of an imaginary assassin named Treetop.
At Sherifi's direction, his brother, Shkumbin Sherifi, and friend, Nevine Elshiekh, spent the first week of 2012 rounding up $5,000 to pay for the initial hit on a government witness, prosecutors said.
In the sting, a middleman collected the money and later provided faked pictures appearing to show the targeted witness beheaded and lying in a shallow grave.
Much of the government's case centered on audio and video recordings between November 2011 and January 2012 of jail calls, jail visits, and wiretap recordings between those involved.
Shkumbin Sherifi, 22, and Elshiekh, 47, who were also charged in the case, also testified as part of a plea deal they made last week. They each face up to 10 years in prison for their roles in the plot.
Sherifi was sentenced in January to 45 years in prison for plots to attack the Marine base at Quantico, Va., and targets overseas. He was among seven Triangle-area residents charged in 2009 with conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks, raising money and gathering weapons to support terrorist activities and engaging in military-style training.