A 23-year-old Brooklyn, New York, man who transcribed Osama Bin Laden videos on his MySpace page and traveled to Cairo with his best friend was found guilty of conspiring to commit murder overseas and supporting terrorism.
U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn today announced the verdict against the man, Betim Kaziu, after the jury deliberated for less than four hours following a two-week trial. The jury found Kaziu guilty on four counts, including an attempt to provide support to a terrorist organization overseas.
Kaziu, a U.S. citizen arrested in Kosovo in 2009, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, partly on testimony given by Sulejmah Hadzovic, a neighbor he met in the sixth grade. Hadzovic, whom the U.S. called Kaziu’s best friend, said they both wanted to wage jihad overseas, possibly in Somalia, before Hadzovic abandoned the idea and return to the U.S.
While in Cairo, Kaziu sought to join Al-Shabaab, a group fighting to overthrow the government in Somalia; tried to travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan; and sought to buy an AK-47 on the black market, U.S. prosecutors said. He was also seeking to attack NATO troops in Kosovo, where some U.S. troops were stationed, U.S. lawyer Ali Kazemi said in court.
When Hadzovic had a change of heart and returned to the U.S. in May 2009, Kaziu tried to urge him on, accusing him of going back to the “disbelieving lands,” Kazemi said.
He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 4.
“We have brought to justice a homegrown terrorist who conspired to kill U.S. troops overseas,” U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch in Brooklyn said in a statement.
Kaziu and Hadzovic were first-generation Americans whose parents came from the former Yugoslavia. His parents declined to comment today.
Closing arguments to the jury on July 6 focused on whether Kaziu’s MySpace page and his contacts and travel overseas were evidence of a conspiracy.
His avatar on the page, “Sayf-UL-iSLAM” shows a figure in military fatigues with a saber. Under the alias Abdul Wahab Al-Albani, Kaziu’s postings included lines like, “Angry at the Kuffar,” or disbeliever.
He posted films including one of a crying U.S. soldier, and an interview with Osama Bin Laden from 2008.
His occupation is listed as “mu******,” which Kazemi said in closing arguments was short for mujaheed, or Muslim warrior;
“Those videos are a window straight into the defendant’s mind,” Kazemi said.
“I came to chill with the brothers (inshallah) before I depart,” Kaziu said in a video he made of himself walking along a rocky coastline in Albania, presented as evidence in the trial. The footage, which the government described as a “martyr video” indicating his intent to die for Islam, shows Kaziu with a full beard, in a white tank top and headscarf reciting how he’d traveled from Brooklyn to Cairo to Pristina, Kosovo, and then to Albania.
Kaziu, in a white button-down shirt and tan blazer in court, was expressionless as the verdict was read. He winked and smiled at his family as he was led out.
U.S. prosecutors said he had taken Osama Bin Laden’s words and rebroadcast them as his own and disseminated messages from Anwar al-Awlaki on his MySpace page. Al-Awlaki is a U.S. and Yemeni citizen said by the U.S. to be a senior planner for al-Qaeda, the Islamist group founded by Bin Laden.
“He’s not passively viewing this information on the Internet, he’s adopting it, studying it, sharing it,” Kazemi said.
Joshua Dratel, Kaziu’s lawyer, said his client should be protected by U.S. law guaranteeing freedom of speech and religion. Kaziu did nothing amounting to conspiracy, didn’t own a gun and wasn’t trained to fight, the defense lawyer said.
At 21, he had made other “role playing” videos, posing as a weatherman, a drug dealer and a Mafioso, Dratel said.
“Conspiracy is an agreement to do something illegal,” Dratel said in his closing arguments. “It’s not watching videos.”
Hadzovic testified against his best friend to avoid going to prison himself, the lawyer said. The government said Hadzovic signed an agreement under which lying under oath might result in a 15-year sentence.
The verdict followed other convictions in New York for terrorism plots involving U.S. citizens that never came to fruition.
Four men were convicted in Brooklyn this year for planning to blow up John F. Kennedy International Airport. They included Russell Defreitas, 67, an American citizen and native of Guyana.
Three men were sentenced last month to 25 years in prison for plotting to blow up New York synagogues and fire heat-seeking missiles at military planes. They included James Cromitie, a Brooklyn native.
Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen from Pakistan who drove a bomb-laden vehicle into New York’s Times Square, was sentenced to life in prison for the failed attack.
The Kaziu case is U.S. v. Kaziu, 09-cr-00660, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
The case is U.S. v. Kaziu, 09-cr-00660, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).