Terrorism Trials & Investigations

A Parade of Terrorism and Security-Related Convictions in Federal Court over the Last Week

By Robert Chesney
Wednesday, September 14, 2011, 12:33 PM

DOJ had a heck of a good run in terorrism and national security cases over the past seven days, including three sets of guilty please plus a hefty sentence in another case.  The details appear below:

* United States v. Harpham (E.D. Wash. Sep. 7, 2011) (guilty plea)

In this case, Kevin Harhpham has pled guilty to placing an IED along the planned route for the MLK Day parade in Spokane last January.  The details from the press release: 

SPOKANE, Wash. – Kevin William Harpham, 37, of Colville, Wash., pleaded guilty today to the placement of the improvised explosive device alongside the planned Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity March on Jan. 17, 2011, in Spokane, Wash., announced the Department of Justice. 

On March 9, 2011, Harpham was arrested and charged by complaint with the crimes of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an unregistered explosive device.  Today, Harpham pleaded guilty to two counts of a superseding indictment, charging Harpham with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempt to commit a federal hate crime.  The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity March was attended by hundreds of individuals, including racial minorities.  The explosive device placed by Harpham was capable of inflicting serious injury or death, according to laboratory analysis conducted by the FBI.

The plea agreement calls for a sentence of between 27 and 32 years in prison.  The plea agreement is subject to the district court’s review acceptance and determination of the final sentence.  The plea agreement also calls for a lifetime term of court supervision after Harpham is released from prison.

* United States v. Payen (S.D.N.Y. Sep. 7, 2011) (25 year sentence in NY terror plot)

From the press release: 

NEW YORK – Laguerre Payen was sentenced today to 25 years in prison for plotting to bomb synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, N.Y., and to use Stinger surface-to-air guided missiles to shoot down military planes located at the New York Air National Guard Base at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, N.Y., announced Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Payen was convicted along with James Cromitie, David Williams and Onta Williams in October 2010 after a two-month jury trial.  U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon presided over the trial and imposed today's sentence.

            “Laguerre Payen was a willing participant in a plot to use bombs and missiles to target New York synagogues and U.S. military planes,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara.  “Although these weapons were fake, the defendant believed they were real, and today’s sentence underscores the gravity of these crimes.”

            According to the evidence presented at trial and other documents and proceedings in this case:

            In June 2008, an informant working with the FBI was approached by Cromitie in Newburgh.  Cromitie explained to the informant that his parents had lived in Afghanistan and that he was upset about the war there.  Cromitie expressed interest in returning to Afghanistan and said that if he were to die a martyr, he would go to “paradise.”  He also expressed an interest in doing “something to America.”  The following month, Cromitie and the informant discussed Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based designated foreign terrorist organization, with which the informant claimed to be involved.  Cromitie stated that he would be interested in joining the organization to “do jihad.”

During further meetings with the informant, Cromitie, Payen, David Williams and Onta Williams discussed their desire to attack certain targets in New York, including synagogues in the Bronx and military aircraft located at the Air National Guard Base in Newburgh.  Cromitie asked the informant to supply surface-to-air guided missiles and explosives for the planned operations.  The informant responded that he could provide Cromitie with C-4 plastic explosives.

            After Cromitie, Payen, David Williams and Onta Williams selected the synagogues they intended to target and conducted surveillance of military planes at the Air National Guard Base, Cromitie, Payen and David Williams drove with the informant toward Stamford, Ct., to obtain what the defendants believed would be a surface-to-air guided missile system and three improvised explosive devices (IEDs) containing C-4 plastic explosive material.  The informant provided the defendants with a Stinger surface-to-air guided missile provided by the FBI that was not capable of being fired, telling the defendants that he had obtained it from Jaish-e-Mohammed.  The informant also provided three IEDs that each contained over 30 pounds of inert C-4 plastic explosives, again telling the defendants that he had obtained them from Jaish-e-Mohammed.  Cromitie, Payen and David Williams transported these weapons back to Newburgh on May 6, 2009. 

            Two days later, Cromitie, Payen, David Williams and Onta Williams met to inspect the “missile system” and the “explosive devices” and to further discuss the logistics of the operation.  On May 13, 2009, they returned to Stamford and picked up another Stinger missile.  Law enforcement officers arrested the four men on May 20, 2009, right after they planted the IEDs outside of two synagogues in Riverdale. 

            Payen, Cromitie, David Williams and Onta Williams were each found guilty by a jury of one count of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the United States, three counts of attempting to use weapons of mass destruction within the United States, one count of conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, one count of attempting to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles, and one count of conspiracy to kill officers and employees of the United States.  Cromitie and David Williams were also found guilty by a jury of one count of attempting to kill officers and employees of the United States.

            In addition to the prison term, Judge McMahon sentenced Payen, 29, of Newburgh, to five years of supervised release and ordered him to pay a $700 special assessment fee. Cromitie, David Williams and Onta Williams were sentenced to 25 years in prison on June 29, 2011.

* United States v. Akhtar (D. Maryland Sep. 9, 2011) 

Another guilty plea, this time in a case involving a Pakistani national (who is a lawful permanent resident in the US) who conspired to unlawfully export nuclear-related equipment to entities in Pakistan.  From the press release:

 BALTIMORE – Nadeem Akhtar, 46, of Silver Spring, Md., pleaded guilty today to conspiring to commit export violations and to defraud the United States in connection with a scheme to illegally export nuclear-related materials.


According to his plea agreement, Akhtar, a Pakistani national and lawful permanent resident of the U.S., owns Computer Communication USA (CC-USA).  From October 2005 through March 11, 2010, Akhtar and his conspirators used CC-USA to obtain or attempt to obtain radiation detection devices; resins for coolant water purification; calibration and switching equipment; attenuators; and surface refinishing abrasives for export to restricted entities in Pakistan.  Due to their use in both commercial and military applications, a license would be required to export these items to an end-user of concern or if exported in support of a prohibited end-use, such as activities related to related to nuclear explosives, nuclear reactors, or the processing and production of nuclear-related materials.   Other items that Akhtar unlawfully procured or exported, or attempted to procure or export, to restricted entities in Pakistan include mechanical and electrical valves, cranes and scissor lifts. The total worth of all of these items exceeds $400,000.

The restricted entities in Pakistan included organizations of concern to the U.S. government as acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.  These restricted entities included: Pakistan’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission; and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and its subordinate entities, such as the Chasma Nuclear Power Plant I in Kundian, Pakistan, and the research reactor maintained by the Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences, a constituent institution of the PAEC in Nilare, Pakistan, specializing in nuclear-related research and development.  Exports of commodities to these organizations were prohibited absent the issuance of an export license. 

Akhtar attempted to evade export regulations and licensing requirements by: undervaluing and falsely describing the items being exported; failing to reveal the true end-user by using third parties and/or real and fake business entities/locations in Pakistan, Dubai and the United States; using individuals in Illinois and California to procure items for him under false pretenses; shipping items to his residences in Maryland so it would appear as though his company was the actual purchaser/end-user of the items; and transshipping the items from the U.S. through the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Akhtar took direction from the owner of a trading company located in Karachi, Pakistan, who had business relationships with governmental entities in Pakistan.  This individual would obtain orders for nuclear-related and other commodities from Pakistani government entities identified above, and then direct Akhtar as to what commodities to purchase in the United States for export to Pakistan, and the methods to be used to conceal the true nature, value and end-user of the items.  Akhtar would then negotiate prices with manufacturers and suppliers of commodities sought in the U.S. and arrange for shipment of the commodities.  Akhtar’s co-conspirators included individuals in Pakistan, Dubai, UAE and New York associated with the owner of the Pakistani trading company.  The owner usually paid Akhtar a commission of five to seven and a half percent of the cost of each item Akhtar obtained for export from the U.S. 

Akhtar faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and remains detained in federal custody.  U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz has scheduled sentencing for Jan. 6, 2012, at 9:30 a.m.

* United States v. Irfan Ul Haq, et al. (D.D.C. Sep. 12, 2011)

An interesting case.  The three defendants (all citizens of Pakistan) ran a human smuggling operation in Ecuador, and agreed to smuggle a man whom they believed was a member of the Pakistani Taliban from Pakistan into the United States.  They have now pled guilty to a charge of conspiring to provide material support to that group.  Details from the press release appear below:  

WASHINGTON – Three Pakistani citizens pleaded guilty today in the District of Columbia to conspiracy to provide material support to the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), often referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, a designated foreign terrorist organization.

At a hearing today before U.S. District Judge John D. Bates in Washington, D.C., Irfan Ul Haq, 37; Qasim Ali, 32; and Zahid Yousaf, 43, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.  At sentencing, which is scheduled for Dec. 9, 2011, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.  As part of their plea agreements, the defendants have agreed to a stipulated order of removal to Pakistan upon the completion of their criminal sentences.

Ul Haq, Ali and Yousaf were arrested in Miami on March 13, 2011, on an indictment filed in the District of Columbia charging them with one count of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling.  Based on the defendants’ guilty pleas to terrorism conspiracy charges, the government will dismiss at the sentencing hearing the charges of conspiracy to commit alien smuggling against the defendants

Ul Haq, Ali and Yousaf admitted that between Jan. 3, 2011, and March 10, 2011, they conspired to provide material support to the TTP in the form of false documentation and identification, knowing that the TTP engages in terrorist activity and terrorism.  According to court documents, Ul Haq, Ali and Yousaf conducted a human smuggling operation in Quito, Ecuador, that attempted to smuggle an individual they believed to be a member of the TTP from Pakistan into the United States.  The TTP was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department on Sept. 1, 2010.

Court documents indicate that law enforcement agents directed confidential sources to ask the defendants, who were residing in Ecuador at the time, for their assistance in smuggling a fictitious person from Pakistan to the United States.  Over the course of the ensuing negotiations, the defendants were made aware that the person to be smuggled was a member of the TTP who was blacklisted in Pakistan. 

According to the court documents, the defendants agreed to move this person from Pakistan into the United States, despite his purported affiliation with the TTP.  Ul Haq, according to the court documents, told the confidential sources that it was “not their concern” what the men “want to do in the United States – hard labor, sweep floor, wash dishes in a hotel, or blow up.  That will be up to them.”  The defendants accepted payment from the confidential sources for the smuggling operation and procured a false Pakistani passport for the purported TTP member.