Connecting dots key to proving terror case
Posted July 30, 2009 5:09 p.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2009 7:05 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — The 14-page federal indictment that accuses eight men of plotting terrorist activities overseas includes references to seemingly innocuous activities like foreign travel and meeting friends.
A former federal prosecutor says the way authorities assemble the pieces of the puzzle and put those activities in context will determine whether they can prove in court the allegations that the men wanted to wage "violent jihad."
Seven people were arrested Monday at various Triangle locations on charges that they sought to engage in terrorism in the Middle East and raised money, bought weapons and trained in North Carolina to carry out their plan.
Daniel Patrick Boyd, 39, and his sons, Dylan Boyd, 22, and Zakariya "Zak" Boyd, 20, are expected to appear in federal court in Raleigh next Tuesday. Three others charged, Hysen Sherifi, 24, Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, 22, and Ziyad Yaghi, 21, also are expected to appear Tuesday for detention hearings.
A seventh defendant, Anes Subasic, 33, has requested a Yugoslavian interpreter for his court hearing, so it's unclear when that hearing will be held.
Federal authorities are seeking an unidentified eighth suspect in the case who is believed to be in Pakistan. A WRAL News source has identified the suspect as Jude Kenan Mohammad, 20, of Wake County.
The indictment doesn't spell out who authorities believe the men intended to kill. Instead, it cites activities as part of an organizing effort.
The charges against Daniel Boyd, the alleged ringleader of the operation, and the other suspects refer to buying guns and training in military tactics – acts that by themselves aren't criminal – as well as raising money and traveling abroad.
Kieran Shanahan, a Raleigh lawyer and former federal prosecutor, said the big challenge for the government will be proving what the men planned to do, not what they did.
"You and I can walk into a bank for legitimate purposes, and that's not a crime," Shanahan said by way of example. "If we walked into a bank for the purposes of casing it because we're going to come back and rob it, that would be an act in the furtherance of a conspiracy."
Electronic surveillance will play a key role in the case, he said. The U.S. Attorney's Office already has filed notices that it plans to use evidence gathered through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act against each defendant. FISA sets out how intelligence on foreign agents in the U.S., including suspected terrorists, can be gathered.
"The government is going to have to tie these pieces together with circumstantial evidence or, more likely, some of the tape recordings that it appears they've got," he said.
Friends of the suspects and lawyers who have worked with them have questioned the charges against the men, saying none fits the profile of a terrorist. Local Muslim leaders have said they want more facts to come out about the criminal case against the men.
Daniel Boyd's older brother told The Associated Press on Thursday that charges are "ludicrous." Robert Boyd, who lives in Minnesota, called his brother "an upstanding young man" and said the indictment is "another attempt to associate Islam with terrorism."
Shanahan said proving the terror suspects' intent will be challenging for prosecutors since federal agents moved in before any violence was carried out.
Prosecutors will have an easier time convicting Daniel Boyd on charges he lied to U.S. customs agents when returning from Israel two years ago, he said.
"When you give false statements to a federal official, that's a separate crime," he said.