PHILADELPHIA — A British national who was sentenced in federal court for multiple crimes supporting terrorism fundraising efforts was deported late Monday. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) led the investigation into the terrorist supporter’s activities, and ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) handed him over to British authorities.
Babar Ahmad, 41, was extradited to the United States in 2012 to face charges for operating a family of websites collectively known as Azzam Publications, which an HSI investigation determined was established to “incite the believers” and also to raise money for known terrorist groups, including the Taliban.
Ahmad admitted to the crime in 2013 and received a 150-month prison sentence by a federal judge in July 2014. He was deported once he completed the prison term, which included time served in Britain and the United States leading up to his sentencing.
The investigation into Ahmad’s online activities spans nearly a decade and revealed he was providing material support when the Taliban was harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. His funding allowed the Taliban to have a base of operations in Afghanistan from which they could plan terrorist attacks directed at the United States.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Ahmad was a member of a group that supported the Taliban through various means, including the operation of a series of websites, including Azzam.com and Qoqaz.net, which promoted violent jihad and solicited support for such groups.
Azzam Publications posted articles on how to train for and support the jihad and the mujahideen, posted biographies of "martyrs," and also produced and/or sold a number of audio and video products that were advertised on the websites, including videos containing real combat footage and biographies and images of deceased mujahideen.
While the websites were in operation, the Taliban allowed territory under its control in Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven and base of operations for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, who had committed and threatened to continue committing acts of violence against the United States and its nationals, including the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa, the October 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. For a period of time, the Azzam websites were made possible through the unwitting services of a web-hosting company headquartered in Trumbull, Connecticut.
Ahmad conspired with others to provide support by soliciting and conspiring to provide funds and military equipment and by facilitating the travel of individuals to attend training camps in Afghanistan. His actions were done knowing that such support would be used in preparation for or in carrying out a conspiracy to commit murder, kidnaping or maiming, and a conspiracy to kill nationals of the United States while such nationals were abroad.
In 2001, Azzam Publications also posted on its websites an article entitled "What You Can Do to Help the Taliban," which provided detailed instructions on how to raise, transport and personally deliver amounts over $ 20,000 in cash to the Taliban government via its consulate in Pakistan. Azzam Publications solicited personnel and physical items, including military suits and gas masks, for the Taliban. This solicitation appeared on the Azzam websites following Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida's having claimed responsibility for the October 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, and was intended to assist the Taliban defend against a claimed forthcoming attack by the United States in retaliation for al-Qaida's attack on the U.S.S. Cole.
Ahmad and Azzam Publications' support continued even after Sept. 11, 2001, when U.S. forces were actively fighting Taliban and al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan, and after Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida had claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks. For example, from at least the fall of 2001 through mid-2002, Ahmad and the Azzam sites posted an "Appeal to Pakistanis All over the World," which, post-9/11, encouraged Pakistanis worldwide to travel to and fight against "the Crusaders" in Afghanistan, and provided detailed instructions for Pakistani nationals to obtain a Pakistani visa under false pretenses. On a linked page discussing the fighting in Afghanistan, the Azzam site also posted a bar graph comparing casualties at the World Trade Center with casualties in Afghanistan.
A search of Ahmad's computer media from his office at Imperial College in London recovered a previously deleted document from December 2001 that discussed safe routes into and out of Afghanistan, the need for fighters, the provision of funds and night vision systems, and providing detailed information on U.S. casualties for circulation on the Azzam sites.
In December 2003, a search of Ahmad's residence in the United Kingdom revealed that Ahmad was in possession of an electronic document setting forth previously classified plans regarding the makeup, advance movements, and mission of a U.S. naval battle group as it was to travel from California to its deployment in the Middle East. The document discussed the battle group's perceived vulnerability to terrorist attack. Forensic analysis revealed that Syed Talha Ahsan created the electronic version of the battle group document, carefully altered the metadata to hide his authorship, and then delivered the material to Ahmad.
Ahmad was detained since his arrest by British law enforcement authorities Aug. 5, 2004, and he was indicted in October 2004. Following lengthy extradition proceedings, Ahmad was extradited to Connecticut in October 2012. On Dec. 10, 2013, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and one count of providing material support to terrorists.
This case was investigated by a task force in Connecticut led by HSI. Other law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation include: FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force; Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Criminal Investigation Division; IRS’s Criminal Investigation Electronic Crimes Program; Defense Criminal Investigative Service; and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.