Some people have pointed to the fact that the Virginia jihad group trained by playing paintball games is evidence of scapegoating: how could they have been serious if they were just playing paintball? Well, yesterday ex-Marine Donald Surratt testified: “I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going. Some people were really serious about this. … They really wanted to implement the training.” It got very serious “after one group member returned from a 2000 trip to Pakistan, where he trained with a militant Islamic group called Lashkar-e-Taiba that has since been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.” From AP:
An ex-Marine who has pleaded guilty to his role in an alleged “Virginia jihad network” testified Wednesday that the group began playing paintball games to learn self-defense, but the games became more intense as some members used the games for military training.
Donald Surratt, 31, of Suitland, Md., said the games became more serious after one group member returned from a 2000 trip to Pakistan, where he trained with a militant Islamic group called Lashkar-e-Taiba that has since been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
The group as a whole never discussed using the games as a means to train and join Lashkar, Surratt testified at the trial of four purported group members. But the increasing intensity of the games and their use by some as a training platform for overseas holy war caused him and others to re-evaluate the games’ propriety.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going,” Surratt said. “Some people were really serious about this. … They really wanted to implement the training.”
Four men–Masoud Khan, Seifullah Chapman, Hammad Abdur-Raheem and Caliph Basha ibn Abdur-Raheem, all U.S. citizens who live in the Washington suburbs–are on trial for conspiracy to aid the Taliban against the United States. Khan faces the most serious charges, including conspiracy to levy war against the United states and conspiracy to provide support to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network.
Surratt said he talked about the games with Hammad Abdur-Raheem, who shared his concerns. But they decided their participation was OK because they they had no plans to engage in holy war.
The government alleges that the men were part of a Virginia jihad network that used paintball games as a means to train and join Lashkar, which is seeking to drive India from the disputed Kashmir region. Engaging in a military expedition against India violates the federal Neutrality Act.
The government further alleges that the group’s aims took a hostile turn against the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, alleging that the groups’ religious leader told his followers that Islam required them to defend the Taliban against the United States, and that the U.S. military was a legitimate target of holy war.
The defendants contend that the paintball was merely a way for the men to fulfill their religious duties to learn self-defense and that they never intended to fight against the United States.
Surratt, in his testimony, acknowledged that the religious leader, Ali al-Tamimi, recommended fighting alongside the Taliban as the optimal course of action. But if that were not possible, a person could simply leave the United States and live in a Muslim country, or even just pray on behalf of the Taliban to fulfill their obligation.