After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, law enforcement officials pledged an aggressive effort to choke off future plots. People identified as security threats would be charged as soon as a crime could be proven, even if it was well short of a terrorist strike. The Washington area, where seven of the 19 al-Qaeda hijackers spent time before the attacks, became a focus of their investigations.
“Awaiting an attack is not an option,” Paul J. McNulty, the deputy U.S. attorney general, said in a recent speech. He described the approach as “preventative prosecutions.”
For prosecutors, that effort has been a success: Chandia was the 11th man convicted in what they describe as a “jihad network” in the D.C. suburbs dedicated to supporting military action on behalf of Muslims. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Muslims in the Washington area, even those unconnected to the defendants, wonder and worry about the implications of these cases for their community. Some feel that the prosecutions could increase the stigma Muslims have faced since Sept. 11. And many Muslims say the aggressive law enforcement has been far out of proportion to the offenses, which harmed no one.
Chandia’s trial, for example, focused on favors he did for an acquaintance who belonged to a Pakistani group on the U.S. terrorist list. Chandia drove the visitor around the D.C. suburbs and helped him ship packages abroad.
For that, prosecutors sought 30 years to life. Some of the other defendants will spend decades in jail, including two who received life sentences.
“If this is how you deliver justice, you lose your trust in the justice system,” protested Muddasar Ahmed, a Beltsville consultant who was among Chandia’s supporters at his sentencing.
Ahmed and others have also argued that the prosecutions show a fundamental misunderstanding of Muslims in America: The local men wanted to help oppressed Muslims overseas, which isn’t the same as backing bin Laden.
“The Muslim community . . . does not agree with Osama bin Laden at all,” said Tanweer K. Ahmed, a College Park medical specialist who is not related to Muddasar Ahmed but is also among Chandia’s supporters.