Lawyer: Pledge To Teach Martial Arts To Qaeda Operatives Not Illegal

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The New York Sun

A supporter of Osama bin Laden cannot be criminally charged for pledging to teach martial arts to Al Qaeda operatives, his lawyer argued in papers filed yesterday.

Tarik Shah played a central role in a conspiracy to provide material support to foreign terrorists, according to an indictment filed in February against him and three other co-conspirators.

Mr. Shah, a martial arts instructor and jazz bassist, is charged with conspiring to send money to terrorists in Chechnya and Afghanistan, among other allegations. He was arrested in May 2005 at the conclusion of a lengthy sting operation, during which he also allegedly sought to locate a building where he could train Al Qaeda operatives in martial arts, prosecutors say.

In legal papers filed Wednesday night, Mr. Shah’s attorney argues that promising to offer martial arts training is not illegal under the material support statute.

“He is not a threat, and we don’t believe he committed a crime,” his attorney, Joshua Dratel, said. While it is illegal to conspire to provide “training” or “expert advice” to terrorist groups, Mr. Dratel argued it is unclear exactly what types of activities are included under those headings. The court papers suggest that his case, if it goes to trial, will turn partly on where a jury draws the line between free speech and material support for terrorism.

Mr. Shah allegedly swore an oath of fealty to Mr. bin Laden in the presence of an undercover federal agent he believed to be an Al Qaeda recruiter. His library collection of recordings of Mr. bin Laden and books on jihad were included among evidence that law enforcement could seize under a search warrant, Mr. Dratel wrote.

“Whether Mr. Shah is building a library, discussing ideas posited by bin Laden, or conversing with a friend about religious and/or political philosophy and history, he is protected by the First Amendment,” Mr. Dratel wrote.

The court filings, more than 300 pages in all, dispute few of the government’s claims of fact. But in a four-page affidavit, Mr. Shah declares that a man he later learned to be a government informant asked him to wire money “to help Muslim families in need.”

“I did not undertake any such action, and in the spring or summer of 2002, I distanced myself from this man altogether,” Mr. Shah wrote.

Mr. Shah faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. His co-defendants, who have not yet filed similar motions, include a doctor, an Islamic bookseller in Brooklyn, and a Maryland man accused of attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.

Long before any trial, a judge will rule on several motions that Mr. Dratel filed on Mr. Shah’s behalf. Mr. Dratel has asked Judge Loretta Preska of U.S. District Court in Manhattan to suppress as evidence all the statements that Mr. Shah made following his arrest partly on the grounds that he was held for four days before being brought in front of a judge.

During that time, federal agents took Mr. Shah, then wearing a wire, to Baltimore, where he met with other co-conspirators to help prosecutors build their cases, Mr. Dratel wrote.

The New York Sun

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