“Court can use Georgia Tech student’s jihad statement,” by Bill Rankin for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, August 19:
Atlanta terrorism defendant Syed Haris Ahmed’s statements that he considered planning a terrorist attack and dying a martyr waging jihad can be used against him at trial, a judge has ruled.
Handing federal prosecutors a major victory, U.S. Magistrate Gerrilyn Brill rejected arguments that the former Georgia Tech student was coerced by agents into making the statements.
Ahmed and co-defendant, Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, of Roswell, are charged with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. Both have pleaded not guilty and are being held without bond. Their trial dates have yet to be set.
Over the course of five interviews in March 2006, Ahmed admitted traveling to Washington to take “casing videos” that were sent to “jihadi brothers” overseas.
He also said that when he visited Pakistan in 2005, he hoped to be recruited into a jihadi training camp to learn how to fight against Muslim oppressors. During a trip to Canada the same year, Ahmed told agents, he met with “brothers” and discussed attacking oil refineries, a military base or the satellite system that controls the global positioning system.
About 11 hours of tape recordings of the interviews were played during hearings early this year. They portray Ahmed as an impressionable, soft-spoken student transfixed by Internet sites and chat rooms that were popular with extremists and promoted the annihilation of the enemies of Islam.
In one sobering exchange, Ahmed told agents he had thought about committing a terrorist act here.
“My intentions were to do something in America,” he said. “Yes, attack.”
His appointed attorney, Jack Martin, has noted that Ahmed never committed a violent act or developed a specific plan to carry one out.
Martin contended Ahmed was coerced into making the statements by agents who used psychological tactics, such a threats of arrests and promises of leniency. The agents also preyed on Ahmed’s deeply held Muslim faith, Martin said, calling the statements involuntary.
In a 64-page ruling issued Monday, Brill disagreed.
“Although [Ahmed] was deeply religious, he was also 21 years old, intelligent and had been interviewed by law enforcement twice before,” Brill wrote. “There is nothing “¦ to suggest that [Ahmed’s] will was critically affected by the agents” various appeals to his Muslim beliefs and there is nothing inherently coercive about such tactics.”
U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said, “We are very pleased with the court’s thorough and well-reasoned opinion rejecting defendant Ahmed’s motion to suppress the highly incriminating statements he made to the FBI.”
Martin vowed to appeal. “It makes no sense to conclude that a suspect has voluntarily given a statement to law enforcement officers when he has been promised he will not be arrested and left alone if he talks, but will be arrested and prosecuted if he does not,” he said.
Ahmed, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, moved to the United States with his parents when he was 12. At the time of his arrest, Ahmed was a Georgia Tech engineering student working part-time at a perfume shop.
Authorities had come to suspect Ahmed and Sadequee were behind the videos of various Washington-area buildings found on the computer of Younis Tsouli.
Tsouli, who called himself Irhabi (Arabic for “terrorist”) 007, is imprisoned for terrorism-related crimes in England. Agents later confirmed that Ahmed and Sadequee made those videos during a trip to the nation’s capital in April 2005.
But in March 2006, with intelligence drying up, authorities confronted Ahmed to see if it was true and to gain his cooperation.
FBI Agent Mark Richards and Khalid Sediqi, a DeKalb County detective and member of a terrorism task force, met Ahmed as he walked one morning to his ranch-style home in Midtown. They would interview Ahmed five times Ã¢â‚¬” first at his home, next at a hotel and, the final three occasions, at FBI headquarters in Atlanta.
The two counterterrorism agents played good cop, bad cop. Sediqi, who is Muslim, built a rapport with Ahmed through their shared beliefs. Richards berated and threatened Ahmed when agents believed he wasn’t being truthful with them.
Their tactics worked. Ahmed gave up more and more. He ultimately took the agents to his parents” home in Dawsonville to retrieve the camera used to take the casing videos.
Although Ahmed called the amateurish videos “stupid,” he admitted they could be used for “some kind of terrorist act.”
“We could be spies for the people over there,” Ahmed told the agents, referring to extremists overseas. “It’s like, uh, thrilling to be undercover and stuff like that.”