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US Busts Alleged Terror Ring - 2003-06-27

Federal prosecutors in the United States say they have broken up an alleged terrorist ring suspected of planning a violent Muslim jihad that called for attacks against American targets overseas, including U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

In all, 11 people, nine Americans among them, are charged in a 41-count indictment accusing them of taking up arms and planning a jihad or religious war on behalf of Muslims around the world, in nations friendly to the United States.

Paul McNulty, the federal prosecutor for the eastern district of Virginia, announced the arrests of eight of the suspects, most if not all of them Muslims, alleged to be linked to a group identified by the United States as a terrorist organization.

"A violent Islamic extremist group known as Lashkar-e-Taiba, LET, which claims to operate in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kosovo, Bosnia, Kashmir and the Philippines," he said.

Some of those charged allegedly received training from that group in camps in Pakistan. A federal indictment alleges the men were also training with firearms around the Washington D.C. area for attacks to be carried out against Americans overseas.

"Virginia jihad network members were told that it was time to engage in violent jihad, that it was appropriate for these members to take up arms in jihad against American soldiers in Afghanistan," Mr. McNulty said.

The group is not accused of having carried out any attacks. But prosecutors say they believe what they were doing by going off into wooded areas outside Washington was actually preparing for jihad by using toy weapons and equipment to simulate actual combat.

"Tens miles from Capitol Hill, in the streets of northern Virginia, American citizens allegedly met, plotted and recruited for violent jihad," said Mr. McNulty.

A lawyer for one of those accused says they are being targeted simply because they are Muslims. Ashraf Nubani is an attorney with the National Liberty Fund, which works to defend the rights of Muslims in America.

"The Muslim community is scared to death because of the way the government is dealing with our communities," he said.

Some of those charged Friday have told reporters that what prosecutors call training for jihad was nothing more than an innocent sport outing in the woods.