Prosecutors, defense wrangle over terror expert's testimony
Posted August 16, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — Attorneys for four Triangle men facing terrorism charges on Tuesday questioned the credibility of a government witness in the case.
Dylan Boyd, 23, Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, 23, Ziyad Yaghi, 22, and Hysen Sherifi, 26, pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that they conspired to attack targets overseas. Sherifi also is charged with plotting to attack the Marine base in Quantico, Va.
Their trial is scheduled for Sept. 19 at the federal courthouse in New Bern.
Evan Kohlmann has served as a counter-terrorism consultant to numerous governments and corporations and has analyzed several terrorist groups for more than a decade. Dubbed "the Doogie Howser of Terrorism" because he began studying radical groups at age 18, he has testified as an expert witness in about 20 terrorism cases worldwide.
Kohlmann said the Triangle men demonstrated "the classic characteristics of home-grown terrorism and extremism." He said his conclusions are based on the group's actions as a whole, not just one person's acts.
Much of Kohlmann's analysis in the case, authorities said, is based on FBI interviews with Daniel Patrick Boyd, who authorities say was the leader of the terrorist cell. Boyd pleaded guilty in February to charges of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to murder, kidnap, maim and injure persons in a foreign country.
Defense attorneys questioned whether Kohlmann has enough facts in the case to obtain an accurate picture of each defendant, and they suggested he was recycling theories from other cases in which he's testified.
"He's studied a lot about about Islam, but there's a difference between studying Muslims and knowing what Muslims are," said Khalilah Sabra, director of the Triangle chapter of the Muslim American Society.
Chief U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan asked attorneys to file briefs about there concerns, but she signaled that Kohlmann will likely to allowed to testify as an expert with certain restrictions on how much he can cover.
The dispute over Kohlmann's qualifications marks the latest wrangling over testimony in what will likely be a complex case for jurors, who must determine what actions or associations make someone a terrorist.
"These people are innocent," supporter Farhan Mohammed said after a court hearing Monday. "Just because they travel doesn't mean they plan to kill and maim all the people overseas."
Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys are also arguing over how to present the recorded evidence to a jury. Each side has its own interpretation of what was said on the tapes and who said it.
In addition to Daniel Boyd, Zakariya Boyd, 22, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. Zak Boyd is Daniel Boyd's son and Dylan Boyd's brother.
Another defendant, Anes Subasic, 34, will be tried separately. No date has been set for his trial.
An eighth suspect in the plot is believed to be in Pakistan. A ninth member of the group was arrested in Kosovo two years ago, but the U.S. doesn't have an extradition treaty with that country.