A University of Texas at Dallas sophomore who prosecutors said longed to join the fight against U.S. forces in the Middle East was convicted by a Houston jury on federal weapons charges Thursday.
Syed Maaz Shah, 20, a Pakistan native majoring in electrical engineering, was convicted of firing an Armalite M-15 assault weapon on two camping trips in January and March in a rural area near Willis, north of Houston.
The FBI says Mr. Shah and other men on the trips were engaged in military training with the ultimate goal to join the jihad, or holy war, against the U.S. overseas.
During his trial this week, Mr. Shah said he was going on fishing trips and didn’t know guns would be involved.
“I was invited by my friends to go camping and have a good time, and that’s what we had,” said Mr. Shah in a letter to the UTD Mercury student newspaper that was published in February. “Isn’t it mind-boggling that someone can be placed in prison for merely going to a shooting range? … I mean, for God’s sake, we live in Texas …”
After a three-day trial in front of U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon in Houston, Mr. Shah was convicted on two counts of alien in possession of a firearm affecting interstate commerce.
Mr. Shah entered the U.S. in 2005 on a student visa and as such was prohibited from possessing a firearm, authorities said. He faces up to 20 years in prison. He will be sentenced Sept. 14.
In late November, he was arrested outside his UTD campus apartment and was transferred to Houston to join three co-defendants who authorities say joined him on the training campouts.
Prosecutors said that when Mr. Shaw was arrested, he told agents he went on the campouts to prepare for “what may come” and described American forces in Iraq as “invaders.” During his trial, Mr. Shah denied making those statements.
Extremist materials were found on Mr. Shah’s computer, seized by agents in Dallas, prosecutors said. “Statue of Liberty in Burka” reads the name of one file from his computer, according to a government trial exhibit list.
Shiraz Syed Qazi, 26, also in the U.S. on a student visa, was sentenced last week to 10 months in prison for unlawful possession of a firearm during the campouts.
Adnan Babar Mirza, a 29-year-old Pakistani native, is scheduled for trial in October on federal conspiracy and firearms charges.
A third co-defendant, Kobie Diallo Williams, a 33-year-old U.S. citizen, will be sentenced in October after his November 2006 guilty plea to conspiracy charges related to raising money for the Taliban and gun charges.