NEW YORK - A U.S. citizen who joined al-Qaida was convicted Friday of participating in a failed suicide bombing in 2009 at an American military base in Afghanistan.
A federal jury in New York reached the verdict in the case against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, who’s originally from Houston.
Farekh’s case drew extra attention because of reports that American officials had initially debated whether to try to kill him in a drone strike, a step almost never taken against U.S. citizens. President Barack Obama’s administration ultimately decided to try for a capture and civilian prosecution instead.
Farekh was captured in Pakistan and brought to the U.S. in 2015.
“Today, an American al-Qaeda member was brought to justice in a U.S. courtroom,” said Bridget Rohde, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, using an alternate spelling for the militant group’s name.
She said Farekh faces the possibility of life in prison for “his efforts to murder Americans and his commitment to one of the world’s most infamous terrorist organizations.”
There was no immediate response from Farekh’s lawyer, Sean Maher. He had argued the forensic evidence was too weak to convict Farekh, calling fingerprint experts’ testimony “junk science” in a closing argument.
Most of the charges against Farekh stem from an attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost City, Afghanistan, Jan. 19, 2009.
The attackers drove two vehicles rigged with explosives. An initial blast injured several Afghans, including a pregnant woman, but a much larger bomb failed to go off, sparing the lives of American soldiers.
The jury heard testimony about how forensic technicians in Afghanistan recovered 18 of Farekh’s fingerprints on packing tape used to bind the detonators on the unexploded bomb.
Farekh was convicted of conspiring to murder U.S. nationals, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, conspiracy to bomb a government facility and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.
During the trial, the jury also heard testimony from Zarein Ahmedzay, one of three men convicted in a thwarted plot to bomb New York’s subway system. Ahmedzay told jurors he was trained by an al-Qaida operative identified by prosecutors as a co-conspirator of Farekh’s, who traveled with him from Canada to Pakistan in 2007.
Deliberations were briefly interrupted when the judge learned the defendant’s father had encountered four jurors in an elevator and complained to them that he’d been denied direct contact with him. The judge decided to replace the jurors with three alternates and ordered the deliberations to continue with a panel of 11 instead of the usual 12.