WASHINGTON - On family trips to York County, Masaud Khan, his brother and sister often drove up the dirt road to their uncle?s hillside lot in the Hanover area. They spent steamy summer days hiking, talking and firing guns in the woods.
|Masaud Khan poses with his niece.
Masaud Khan often carried a rifle he owned. His mother said he would aim and shoot at empty soda cans he had propped up in trees. Sometimes he would nail paper bull?s-eye targets to tree trunks and shoot at them. He cherished his .45-caliber pistol.
Prosecutors later said the shots were one piece of more serious training efforts that included a trip to Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Federal authorities indicted Khan in June 2003, alleging that he conspired to join a group the U.S. government has declared to be a terrorist organization. The indictment said that Khan, then 27, practiced marksmanship at a private shooting range near York twice in 2000, but prosecutors provided no other details during Khan?s trial in March.
The indictment linked Khan, who lived in the Washington suburb of Gaithersburg, Md., to 11 men in an alleged ?Virginia jihad network.? He was charged with conspiring to levy war against the United States, providing support to the Taliban, various weapons counts and violating the Neutrality Act, which forbids Americans from inciting war overseas.
A federal judge convicted Khan of charges that included violating the Neutrality Act. Khan received life in prison.
Of the three men whose cases went to trial and were convicted, Khan received the longest sentence.
But Khan?s mother said recently that the training on a firing range in York County was just members of her family taking potshots in the woods. And she said Khan traveled to Pakistan, not Afghanistan, for a court appearance involving his late father?s will and to look for a Muslim community to which he and his wife would eventually move.
?It?s just so ridiculous,? said Elisabeth Khan of Gaithersburg. ?It was target practice. I went a couple of times myself, so what??
The case against Khan
Prosecutors said the Hanover episode was a small part of the case against Masaud Khan.
Court testimony indicated that on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, Masaud Khan and the others met at a Chinese restaurant. Rita Katz, director of the Washington-based Search for International Terrorist Entities and former adviser to counterterrorism officials in the departments of justice and homeland security, said Khan and the others discussed what to do in light of the terrorist attack.
She said the prosecution seized on what Khan did next.
?He actually went and fought, while the rest of them didn?t,? Katz said, referring to Khan firing guns with a terrorist group. ?Khan was the easiest to prosecute. He made the decision to leave the country after 9/11.?
In a four-week trial before U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in Alexandria, Va., federal prosecutor Gordon Kromberg alleged that Masaud Khan flew to Pakistan on Sept. 16, 2001, to train with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group fighting India for disputed land in Jammu and Kashmir. In December 2001, the U.S. government declared Lashkar-e-Taiba a terrorist group.
The prosecution said his training with Lashkar incited war with India, a U.S. ally, violating the Neutrality Act. It did not say how much time he spent there.
Elisabeth Khan said the judge looked unfavorably on the fact that Yong Kwon, who pleaded guilty to the terrorist-
related charges, lived with her and Masaud Khan in Gaithersburg in 1997 and 1998.
Masaud Khan?s brother was a classmate of Kwon?s at Virginia Tech, and when Kwon graduated he had no where to go because his family lived overseas. So Elisabeth Khan allowed him to stay in her basement, she said.
Kwon and Masaud Khan, both Muslims, later attended a lecture series at Dar al-Arqam on the American Open University campus in Alexandria, Va. Prosecutors claimed those gatherings constituted the nucleus of the Virginia jihadists.
Brinkema convicted Khan of the weapons charges and conspiracy to levy war against the United States and conspiracy to contribute services to the Taliban.
At Khan?s sentencing, Kromberg emphasized the timing of Khan?s trip overseas.
?While the Pentagon was still smoking,? Kromberg told the federal court in Virginia, ?Mr. Khan decided now is the appropriate time to go fight the Americans. For that he deserves every day for which this court is about to sentence him.?
Khan?s sentence was among the longest obtained by the government in post-Sept. 11 terrorism-related cases, according to The Associated Press.
Six members of the alleged jihad network entered plea bargains and received sentences ranging from four to 20 years in prison. Two other members of the so-called network have been acquitted of all charges and three others, including Khan, were found guilty. One of them, Seifullah Chapman, received 85 years in prison.
Brinkema criticized the federal guidelines she had to use to determine Khan?s sentence - 30 years followed by three consecutive life terms.
She called the sentence ?draconian? and ?appalling,? reminding the court, ?We have murderers who get far less time. I?ve sent al-Qaida members planning attacks on these shores to less time. This is sticking in my craw. Law and justice at times need to be in tune.?
Khan spoke publicly after his sentencing, saying he was convicted because he is a Muslim.
?To put it bluntly . . . had I been a Zionist Jew or a Christian training to fight (in Palestine), I would never have been charged with violating the Neutrality Act,? he said.
Mother proclaims son?s innocence
After Elisabeth Khan read Kromberg?s quotes in the newspaper, she wrote a letter to The Washington Post calling his speech ?the lowest blow of all.?
?Mr. Kromberg?s parting thrust,? she wrote, ?was to link the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon with Masaud?s trip to Pakistan more than a week later, knowing that my son had planned the trip since July 2001 and that nothing linked him with that tragedy. I assume Mr. Kromberg said that for the benefit of the reporters in the courtroom, so that it would be printed.?
Kromberg declined to comment.
Elisabeth Khan said she can explain why her son went to Pakistan and how he ended up firing shots at the Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp.
She said he flew to Pakistan to appear in a Karachi, Pakistan, court to claim land his deceased father willed the family in 1992. She said he also made a court appearance in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in October 2001.
?The high court has to see heirs in person,? she said.
She said Khan planned to take his wife and child to Pakistan and was looking for a community to move to.
?He got a realtor to get land there and finalize the estate. He was all I had to send because they didn?t deal with women,? Elisabeth Khan said.
Masaud Khan?s lawyer, Jonathan Shapiro, said that on the trip Khan also went to a camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba and fired an M-16 and an anti-aircraft weapon. Shapiro said someone handed Khan a gun to test it; prosecutors said he was training.
?Masaud?s only crime was to dutifully travel to Pakistan at my direction to deliver original estate documents in court,? Elisabeth Khan wrote in a Web site interview.
Masaud Khan was investigating a community, she said, in the hope of using his share of the estate to purchase land eventually and live abroad in a peaceful Muslim community with his family. ?He never intended any harm to anyone.?
Lawyers for Khan argued similarly in his defense, but Brinkema rejected the arguments.
The judge also rejected co-defendant Chapman?s explanation for going on the trip, which was that he saw the trip as a low-cost, physically challenging mountain expedition. Brinkema said it was ?simply implausible that a well-educated man, deeply involved in issues affecting Muslims,? would not have known of Lashkar?s violent activities.
Shapiro said the prosecution had no case. He has brought the case to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. He could not be reached for comment about the status of the appeal.
Masaud ?came back to the U.S. and never fought anyone,? he said earlier this year.
Effect on the family
Hader Khan, Masaud?s uncle, said he has sold his land in the Hanover area - the same land where Masaud practiced his shooting. Hader Khan, who did not say exactly where his property was, said Masaud came there for family visits, but that they were never close.
?I haven?t seen (Masaud) in two or three years,? he said recently. After a reporter asked him questions for a story about Masaud, he said, the FBI also came to Hader Khan?s door in York.
?We don?t have that close of a relationship,? said Hader Khan, a metals engineer who works in Wrightsville. ?My wife and I feel bad. I mean, it?s my nephew.?
Elisabeth Khan, 66, said the case affects the whole family.
?Now we?re all terrorists,? she said.
?It affects families, not just individuals.?
Born in Washington, D.C.; moved to Karachi, Pakistan, at age 4; spent part of his childhood in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. Moved to Gaithersburg, Md., at 17. Attended Gaithersburg High School before dropping out; later earned his GED.
Studied computer science, then took courses at the American Open University, a U.S.-based distance-learning school that offers Islamic education.
In 1996 he passed the Institute?s exam and received a scholarship to go to Riyadh University in Saudi Arabia. He attended for 3Ĺ years and graduated.
He returned to Virginia in January 2000 and expressed interest in marrying. His mother arranged a marriage, and in March 2000, he flew to Morocco for his wedding.
He brought his wife, Imane, to Gaithersburg, where he worked as a kitchen designer. They have a 17-month-old daughter.
Source: Khan family