Three men charged as part of a local jihad network have pleaded guilty to conspiracy and gun charges, The Washington Post reports, with one admitting in federal court yesterday that he trained with firearms in Northern Virginia to prepare for a possible mission fighting for Muslims abroad.
Yong Ki Kwon, 27, told a federal judge in Alexandria that he also trained in Pakistan at a camp run by the Lashkar-i-Taiba organization, which is fighting to end Indian control over much of Kashmir and has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. government. At the camp, he said, he fired weapons ranging from machine guns to rocket-propelled grenades.
Kwon said he and the other 10 men charged as part of the network, who are accused of possessing a variety of weapons and practicing military tactics while playing paintball in the Virginia countryside, had deliberately trained in secret. Asked why by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, Kwon replied: “We didn’t want any undue attention, and we didn’t want any trouble with the government.”
The admissions by Kwon and Khwaja Mahmood Hasan, 27, who both live in Fairfax County, and Donald T. Surratt, 30, of Suitland, who are all cooperating in the investigation, signal a significant victory for the Justice Department. Prosecutors have trumpeted the case as a key step in the war on terrorism and said the men were part of a conspiracy to support “violent jihad” overseas. They have presented no evidence that the men were plotting attacks in the United States.
Muslim groups, defense attorneys and others vigorously defended the men, portraying them as quiet residents who blended easily into the Washington suburbs and were being victimized by an overzealous prosecution.
Kwon and Hasan face up to life in prison when they are sentenced Nov. 7, though under federal sentencing guidelines they will probably serve less than 20 years. Surratt faces up to 15 years in prison.
The other eight men named in last month’s indictment have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to go on trial in November.