The recent terror case of a "gentle" third-grade teacher from the D.C. suburbs shows the danger is at once closer and harder to ID than you think. The enemy is hiding not in the shadows, but in plain sight, and may even wear a smile.
Hundreds of Muslims last week flocked to a federal courtroom to show their support for the affable and soft-spoken Ali Asad Chandia of Maryland as he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for supporting terrorists. Friends say anti-Muslim prosecutors railroaded a "law-abiding" and "peaceful" brother.
"He is a dedicated teacher," said one. "A great family man," said another.
Another told the judge Chandia's so gentle he wouldn't hurt a tree branch in his yard. "I said to Ali that I may need to cut the branch (but) he asked that I not hurt the tree," the friend, a landscaper, said in a letter. "I was touched by Ali's insistence that the tree not be harmed in any way."
But prosecutors tell a different story.
They showed evidence that Chandia, 29, trained at a jihad camp in Lahore, Pakistan, run by the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, an al-Qaida subcontractor that also trained some of the London bombers. He helped Lashkar ship 50,000 paintball pellets, unmanned aerial vehicles, night-vision gear and wireless video cameras from the U.S. to Pakistan for paramilitary training. He even chauffeured a Lashkar lieutenant around Washington on trips the officer made here after 9-11.
Within months of the attacks, Chandia joined the so-called Virginia jihad network dedicated to preparing for holy war against U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan. The gang's ringleader was the civil-rights coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, a Washington-based nonprofit leading the charge against airport and subway terror profiling.
Chandia, who graduated from the University of Maryland and once worked at Costco, also worked as a former personal assistant to the jihad gang's spiritual leader -- imam Ali al-Timimi, a native Washingtonian convicted last year for soliciting the Muslim men to levy war against the U.S. Al-Timimi praised the hijackers who carried out the 9-11 attacks and even cheered the crash of the space shuttle Columbia. Chandia helped al-Timimi schedule his sermons.
In Chandia's car, not surprisingly, federal investigators found a CD-ROM containing videos that glorified Osama bin Laden and the 19 hijackers.
All this took place in the shadow of the U.S. capital. And yet members of the large Muslim community there, many of whom work for the government, were unfazed by the evidence aligned against Chandia. After his conviction, some 350 Muslims including Islamic scholars, activists and other leaders, as well as government employees and contractors, donated generously to his defense fund.
"We ask Allah to reward everyone who supported this cause," gushed the head of the Ali Asad Support Committee. "We ask Allah to raise their ranks and to grant them goodness in this world and in the hereafter."
The local Muslim luminaries also wrote letters to the judge complaining of a U.S. witch hunt against "Brother Ali" and other "principled" Muslims who support "mujahideen" groups. And they mobbed the federal courtroom in Alexandria, Va., hoping for a lenient punishment.
But the judge wasn't buying it, and he imposed a fairly stiff sentence. Chandia, for his part, was unrepentant to the end. Upon his sentencing, Chandia lashed out at prosecutors, warning "their judgment is on the way."
U.S. marshals then led away a terrorist -- not a mild-mannered teacher or loving father -- but a terrorist.
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