"Sadequee and Ahmed never pulled a trigger or set off a bomb, but were making plans and working with terrorists worldwide"

Even as the Headley-Rana case, linked to 26/11, is being probed in India and the U.S., the Federal Bureau of Investigation has smashed a terror network which was trying to strike root in the U.S., where two American youths had been lured into the “jihadi” web and who had travelled to Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Last week, the two youths were sentenced to prison terms by a U.S. court. The FBI posted the details of the case and its probe on its website. Acknowledging that it was a tip from a foreign intelligence partner that set the case in motion, the FBI said it learnt in the summer of 2005 that a central player in a terrorism investigation in another country was in e-mail contact with someone in the Atlanta area.

Armed with court orders, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Atlanta tracked down that person, who turned out to be 19-year-old Ehsanul Sadequee. He was also exchanging regular e-mails with a 20-year-old Georgia Tech student, Syed Haris Ahmed.

“Northern Exposure”

“Initially, our investigation — codenamed “Northern Exposure”—was focussed on finding out what the two young men were up to and why Sadequee was trading e-mails with a terrorism suspect. We began both electronic and physical surveillance on each one and began tracking their financial and travel patterns with the help of partner agencies in the U.S.” The FBI team found that both Sadequee and Ahmed were in touch with terror suspects in nearly a dozen nations. A great deal of this contact was via the Internet.

The probe revealed that Sadequee and Ahmed ended up casing U.S. targets, supporting and sharing information with terrorists around the globe, and travelling overseas to act on their desire to wage a violent jihad. Some of FBI’s intelligence came from its overseas partners, who discovered links from their terror suspects to Sadequee and Ahmed. The FBI shared its intelligence on terror suspects uncovered during its investigation of the two Atlanta extremists.

“In March 2006, we approached Ahmed to see if he would cooperate in the case. Though he tried to deny his illegal activities, Ahmed made incriminating statements and secretly contacted Sadequee to warn him of our investigation. We arrested Ahmed soon after, and Sadequee was arrested in Bangladesh the following month.” Both were convicted in separate trials this year.

Global cooperation in probe

The FBI said the investigation had a far broader and more significant outcome: thanks to unprecedented global cooperation, governments in nearly a dozen nations have arrested more than 40 individuals and disrupted an untold number of terror plots.

“Sadequee and Ahmed never pulled a trigger or set off a bomb, but they were making plans and working with known terrorists worldwide,” said Atlanta special agent in-charge Gregory Jones. “By using an intelligence-driven approach, we not only stopped these guys from doing harm, we took out a larger web of extremists.”

The terror network was smashed by a determined group of law enforcement and intelligence agencies from around the world working in unison to share information, compare evidence, and disrupt terror plots.

The FBI said the two middle-class boys, barely out of high school, lived seemingly normal lives in and around Atlanta while secretly donning the mantle of violent jihad, and in the space of a year went from being extremist wannabes to trusted brothers of terror operatives across the globe.

When Sadequee and Ahmed met at a midtown Atlanta mosque, neither was yet 21. Ahmed, who was born in Pakistan and who moved to the U.S. at about 12, was a mechanical engineering student at Georgia Tech. Sadequee, a Bangladeshi-American born in Virginia, was working in an Atlanta non-profit organisation while living at home with his mother and siblings in the suburb of Roswell.

Interest in violent jihad

The two soon became friends, finding that they shared a similar interest: violent jihad. They started spending hours online — chatting with each other, watching terrorist recruitment videos, and meeting like-minded extremists.

But they clearly wanted to do more than just stand on the sidelines. Fuelled by their growing connections in cyberspace, Sadequee and Ahmed made a series of journeys that drew them further and further into a web of terror. In April 2005, they drove a pickup truck to the nation’s capital and cased a series of landmarks — including the Capitol and the Pentagon — making more than 60 short video clips to help establish their extremist credentials. Sadequee sent several clips to Younis Tsouli — aka “Irhabi007” (“Terrorist 007” in Arabic), an al-Qaeda webmaster, recruiter and propagandist — and to Aabid Hussein Khan, a facilitator for two Pakistan-based terrorist groups. Both Tsouli and Khan have since been convicted of terror offences in the United Kingdom. That summer, Ahmed and Sadequee took separate trips overseas. Ahmed went to Pakistan, meeting with Khan and asking him to attend a training camp and engage in jihad (he was talked out of it by his family). Sadequee was off to Bangladesh, where he joined Tsouli and a Swedish extremist, Mirsad Bektasevic, to form a violent jihadist organisation known as “Al-Qaeda in Northern Europe.” In October, just a few days after being in contact with Sadequee, Bektasevic, armed to the teeth, was arrested in Sarajevo. He was later convicted of terrorism.

What Sadequee and Ahmed didn’t know was that for some time, they had been tracked by the FBI and its partners.

“With their words and their actions, these defendants supported the wrongheaded but very dangerous idea that armed violence aimed at American interests will force our government and our people to change our policies. That is terrorism, and it will not succeed,” said Sally Quillian Yates, acting U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Georgia.

David Kris, Assistant Attorney-General for National Security, said: “This case serves as another reminder of the global nature of the terrorism threat and the importance of international and domestic cooperation in addressing it. These defendants, who conducted surveillance of potential terror targets at home and pursued terrorist training overseas, were part of an online network that connected extremists in North America, Europe and South Asia.”

The judge sentenced Sadequee to 17 years in prison, to be followed by 30 years of supervised release. Ahmed was given 13 years in prison, also to be followed by 30 years of supervised release.

The two cased U.S. targets including the Capitol and Pentagon