Former Winnipegger Muhanad al-Farekh convicted of failed suicide bombing
Former University of Manitoba student captured in Pakistan in 2015, convicted in U.S. court
NEW YORK — A U.S. citizen who joined al-Qaeda 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 City reached the verdict in the case against Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh.
Al Farekh was originally from Houston, and spent time in Winnipeg, Man. studying at the University of Manitoba in the mid 2000s.
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Farekh's case drew extra attention because of reports that American officials had initially debated whether to try to kill himin 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. She said he 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."
Most of the charges against Farekh stem from an attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost City, Afghanistan, on 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.
The defence argued the forensic evidence was too weak to convict Farekh. In his closing argument, defence attorney Sean Maher called testimony by fingerprint experts "junk science."
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 the New York City subway system. Ahmedzay told jurors he was trained by an al-Qaeda operative identified by prosecutors as a co-conspirator of Farekh's who travelled 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 his son.
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.