Raleigh, N.C. — Dozens of people from the Triangle's Islamic community plan a show of support in Wilmington on Friday when two people have a federal court hearing on charges that they tried to hire someone to kill witnesses in a terrorism trial.
Federal authorities arrested Shkumbin Sherifi and Nevine Aly Elshiekh over the weekend and charged them with conspiracy to commit murder.
Sherifi's brother, Hysen Sherifi, was sentenced two weeks ago to 45 years in prison on terrorism charges. He was among seven area men arrested in 2009 after authorities said they plotted attacks on targets overseas, stockpiled weapons and conducted paramilitary training.
Hysen Sherifi met with his brother and Elshiekh several times in recent weeks at the New Hanover County jail, where he is incarcerated, and arranged to have three witnesses who testified during his trial last fall killed, according to a federal court document.
He demanded that the witnesses be beheaded and that pictures be taken of their corpses to prove they had been killed, the court document states. He also wanted a fellow inmate who he thought had tricked him out of some money to be killed.
Authorities said Shkumbin Sherifi and Elshiekh gave someone $5,000 to kill one person.
Elshiekh, 46, plans to hire high-powered attorney Charles Swift to represent her in the case. Swift is a Navy JAG officer who represented Osama bin Laden's driver in a U.S. Supreme Court case.
She has headed the special education program at Sterling Montessori Academy and Charter School in Morrisville for nine years. She is now on leave from the school.
A school representative said the faculty was stunned by her arrest. Her neighbors likewise expressed surprise, calling her a nice and caring person.
She lives with her parents on Edgemont Drive in west Raleigh. Her father is a retired professor from North Carolina State University's College of Textiles.
Julia Sherifi posted on Facebook that her brother is innocent, and she asked people to go to Wilmington in a show of support.
A group called Our Ummah, One Body has signed up more than 80 people for the trip.
"Allegations are not facts. Facts are not known yet. As a community, we have known good from both (Shkumbin Sherifi and Elshiekh)," Mahen Khan, a representative of the group, said in a statement. "We remind the Muslim and non-Muslim community members that, according to the law, both are presumed innocent until proven guilty."
Khalilah Sabra, director of the Muslim American Society Immigration Justice Center, said said the community wants to see what evidence the government has against the pair, especially Elshiekh.
"I think they want to know what's going on, and they believe that somehow a mistake has occurred, that Nevine could not have been involved in something so treacherous," Sabra said. "They want to understand what's going on and do whatever they can to make sure that justice is done."