A New York jury has found a Florida doctor guilty of providing material support to al Qaeda. The jury reached the verdict on its third day of deliberations in Manhattan federal court. Rafiq Sabir, who is 52, now faces 30 years in prison when he is sentenced on September 12.
Sabir, a Saudi-born, Columbia University-educated doctor who lived in Boca Raton, Florida, until his May 2005 arrest, was accused of volunteering his medical services to al Qaeda. The key evidence against Sabir and a co-defendant, jazz bassist and martial arts instructor Tarik Shah, was a tape recording of them allegedly taking the loyalty oath ("bayat") to al Qaeda and its leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zwahiri, in a Bronx apartment. What Shah and Sabir didn't know was the oath administrator was an Arabic-speaking FBI agent posing as a recruiter.
Most terrorism defendants don't testify at their trials, but Sabir did. Taking the stand in his own defense two weeks ago, he was composed and dapper, as he tried to refute the government's branding him a radical Muslim who believed in the violent message of al Qaeda.
"Did you consider the activities of al Qaeda illegal?" his attorney, Edward Wilford, asked.
"Definitely illegal!" Sabir resoundingly replied.
Wearing his gray suit, white shirt, and paisley tie, Sabir called al Qaeda's tactics "Not only a horrible thing to do but counterproductive in terms of things Muslims face around the world."
At this time two years ago, Sabir was bound for a two-year stint in Riyadh, he said, to work at a hospital. But prosecutors portrayed him as planning to volunteer his medical services to wounded "jihadists" overseas. They pointed to Sabir having written down his telephone numbers in code and giving them to the undercover fake recruiter for the "brothers" in Saudi Arabia to call him.
In addition to the purported oath taking, the government's case relied on several taped conversations between Sabir and Shah, who pleaded guilty to one count in April and thus faces only a 15-year sentence.
Sabir and his attorney offered an alternate version of the story, painting Sabir as a devout Muslim who believed in mending the rift between Islam and other religions, through legal and peaceful means.
"I am specifically telling people to not do anything illegal," Sabir told the jury.
The jury sat through 16 days of testimony and arguments during the past month and found Sabir guilty on both counts: conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a terrorist organization and providing or attempting to provide material support or resources to a terrorist organization.