They weren’t just playing paintball. Note also that they were recruited based on an Islamic religious appeal, right in Virginia. From AP:
Just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, three Americans spent a month on a remote Pakistani mountaintop, training with a militant Islamic group, AK-47 assault rifles and anti-aircraft guns and hoping to eventually fight in Afghanistan against U.S. troops, one of the men testified Tuesday.
Khwaja Mahmood Hasan described the scene during the trial of four members of what prosecutors call a Virginia-based “jihad network.”
Hasan testified that he and the other two Americans _ Yong Ki Kwon and Masoud Khan _ left the training camp run by a Pakistani militant group called Lashkar-e-Taiba only after it became apparent that they would not be able to cross the border into Afghanistan and fight alongside the Taliban.
“We started hearing reports from the BBC that the war was coming to a quick end,” Hasan testified, recalling his time at the mountaintop camp called ibn Masood. He said Taliban leader Mullah Omar was no longer calling for Muslims to come to Afghanistan’s aid.
Khan, of Gaithersburg, Md., is one of the four defendants on trial and faces the most serious charges, including conspiracy to levy war against the United States and conspiracy to provide material support to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
Three other defendants face lesser conspiracy and firearms charges; prosecutors allege the group used paintball games near Fredericksburg in the summers of 2000 and 2001 to prepare for holy war against India and other nations with whom the United States is at peace.
Hasan and Kwon, who trained with Khan at the Lashkar camp, have already pleaded guilty to firearms and conspiracy charges and been sentenced to 11 years in prison. Both agreed to testify for the government as part of their plea agreements and could have their sentences reduced for their cooperation.
Khan’s lawyers said in opening statements last week that their client, who was born in Pakistan, traveled to that country primarily to take care of family affairs and that his visit to Lashkar camps was simply a way to fulfill his Islamic duties of learning self-defense.
Yeah, that’s it. Just as a hot war was breaking out between the U.S. and an Islamic regime, he decided to join up with forces allied with that regime to learn a little self-defense. But the fact that they were fighting the U.S. was no doubt purely coincidental.
Hasan said the three spent five weeks at three different camps run by Lashkar, which was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government in December 2001.
He said the group learned to use weapons including AK-47s, handguns and rocket-propelled grenades. They took turns firing an anti-aircraft gun at the side of a mountain.
Their first trip to the camp was thwarted by a government checkpoint, because Kwon’s Korean nationality drew suspicion. They made it to the camp a second time when they were personally escorted by Lashkar’s leader.
While at the camp, they once had to hide from Pakistani intelligence officers who swept through the camp looking for foreigners.
“They took us and hid us on the side of a mountain” for several hours when the when the intelligence officers made their sweep, Hasan said.
Hasan, a northern Virginia resident and graduate of Marymount University in Arlington, said he and the others trained in a group of 12 to 15 along with British and Saudi citizens.
Hasan said he decided to fight for the Taliban after a Sept. 16, 2001, meeting in Fairfax, Va., in which a Muslim scholar named Ali al-Tamimi told members of the paintball group that Islam required them to defend the Taliban against the imminent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
The group viewed Lashkar as a means to obtain the training necessary to join Taliban fighters.
“I knew they (Lashkar) could get us to Afghanistan,” Hasan said.
Also on Tuesday, an expert in paintball games testified for the defense that 8.7 million Americans play the sport.
Jessica Sparks, editor of Paintball magazine, said it is common for paintball players to learn basic tactics like providing cover fire and how to advance in formation.
Prosecutors have said such tactics are evidence the group was engaging in military training.