From left, Hysen Sherifi, Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan and Ziyad Yaghi.
On February 11, 2014, a federal appeals court upheld the convictions of three young Muslim men from North Carolina: Omar Hassan, Hysen Sherifi and Ziyad Yaghi. The three were convicted in 2011 after two paid FBI informants falsely testified that they were part of a home-grown terror group. The men were given prison terms ranging from 15 years to 45 years. Ziyad got 31 years.
Ziyadâ€™s attorney, Robert Boyle said that the appeals court failed to address the key legal issues. â€œWhat I find particularly disturbing is the undercurrent of Islamophobia in the decision.â€
Like he has done against many other innocents, the fraud Evan Kohlmann served as the governmentâ€™s expert witness during the trial. He portrayed Muslim men as inherently violent and explained how Muslims supposedly think. He convinced the jury that even though the men had not committed any crime, they would eventually commit an act of terrorism in the future.
â€œHow on earth can he even say that and how on earth can his juvenile testimony be even taken into consideration at court?!â€ laments Ziyadâ€™s mother Laila Yaghi.
In 2006 and 2007, Ziyad and Omar visited Jordan, the country of Ziyadâ€™s birth, and Egypt, Omarâ€™s country of origin. He and Omar also attempted to visit Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, but were denied entry by Israel. The US indictment claims Ziyadâ€™s intention in his travels was to seek armed conflict. Ziyadâ€™s mother Laila insists otherwise:
â€œAll they did was go sightseeing and visit family members and were looking for a future bride. Nothing out of the ordinary took place. An American with Arab background and dual citizenship was accused of conspiracy and material support based on two trips he took abroad to his own homeland! A young man who wanted to do the right thing and get married so he wonâ€™t do anything immoral at a time where women offered themselves cheaply to him!â€
The testimony of the woman who met with Ziyad was not allowed in court.
Stephen Lendmann summarizes: â€œPaid agent provocateur informants entrap unwary targets. Secret evidence unavailable to defense attorneys convicts them.
Government paid bogus experts lie. False testimony given is inflammatory. Credible defense witnesses are ruled out of order and denied. Pre-trial publicity hypes spurious terror threats. Media scoundrels headline them. Juries are intimidated to convict. Right-wing judges facilitate witch-hunt injustice. Targeted Muslims havenâ€™t a chance.â€
Laila remembers the horrible day in July 2009 when her son was taken away.
â€œHe was looking ahead to go to college when that day he decided to surprise me, his mother, by cleaning the kitchen floor then marinating the chicken, then afterwards he went for a swim in the neighborhood pool. Of course, who would have even imagined that a SWAT team will come to arrest an unarmed young man of 21! A young man who had not done anything wrong or illegal, who did not even break any law but happened to be a somewhat dedicated Muslim!â€
Ziyad was basically punished because he knew a guy named Daniel Patrick Boyd, an American Muslim who spoke against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even though Ziyadâ€™s association with Boyd was very limited the FBI wanted something from Ziyad that was immoral, to lie against Boyd and say whatever pleases the FBI so they can say, â€œwe caught a terrorist,â€ Laila explained.
When Ziyad and his friend Omar refused to lie, the FBI retaliated. Everything they did was interpreted by the FBI in the most bizarre way. Wrestling, paintball and kickboxing became training for jihad! The word â€˜marriageâ€™ became a code word for Jihad and so was â€˜the beachâ€™. Ziyad was charged and convicted of conspiracy and material support yet the indictment does not even say which â€œterrorist organization.â€
â€œThe trial was set in a town 2 1/2 hours away from us to make it hard on people to come and support us. The jury consisted of mostly senior citizens who dozed off during the trial! Most of the jury had family members in the military and were not highly educated, handpicked by the judge! Everything was done deliberately to convict these young men. Hate for our religion is growing tremendously in the US! To top it all, they tried to single us out as un-American based on our religion!â€ Laila continued.
â€œThey have Ziyad in what is called the SHU, Special Housing Unit, a cell underground like a grave designed to make one lose his/her mind. A cell as small as your bathroom where Ziyad is alone in it and only allowed out of his cell an hour every two days! A country that tries to portray itself as democratic, as a first world country, treats its Muslim citizens with so much unfairness and in such an inhumane way that any reader or observer will be shocked!
â€œHow is my son convicted of material support when he did not spend any money on anything illegal or any terrorist organization? How is he convicted of conspiracy when there hasnâ€™t been a crime that has taken place or even a plan to commit a crime?â€
One way the prosecutors manipulated the jury into thinking that these young men were jihadis was by playing endless hours of boring unclear tape recordings of Boyd, who they referred to as â€œthe ring leader.â€ The prosecutors gave the jury some transcripts with words filled in by the prosecutors.
Then, even though Ziyad was not in any of these tape recordings, the prosecutors kept bringing up his name and showing his picture while the tape recordings were being played, while the jury were reading a fabricated filled in transcript by the prosecutors. Not only that, the prosecutors kept showing pictures of jihadis beheading and killing people. â€œSo an uninformed jury, not well educated, not traveled and elderly people who some of them mind you, can barely walk and keep awake, were anxious of getting this ordeal over and in favor of whom, of course, the well convincing prosecutors,â€ Laila concluded.
â€œNobody should feign surprise or shock, it is painfully obvious that this is about cops and prosecutors trying to make a name for themselves when in fact, they had to rely on the anti-Islam hysteria that has gripped this nation for years now. In other words, they took the easy road toward conviction using full advantage of public ignorance and blind faith; two very dangerous commodities in this day and age. I find no honor in this and suspect future generations will look back at this time as a renaissance of the Salem Witch Trials,â€ writes Tim King of Salem News.
â€œThe War on Terrorism has created a breeding ground wherein racists, political pundits, religious zealots, and more have been the catalysts of impregnating the general American mind with detrimental emotions and thoughts that challenge those founding principles,â€ writes Siraj Davis.
â€œZiyad Yaghi is a victim, not only because he is innocent of the charges against him, but because our silence allowed it.â€
â€œWhy would my own country do this to my son and I?â€ Laila weeps.
â€œNights seem to not end with the nightmares of my son cooped up in a tiny cell! In the morning, the first thing that comes to my mind is that my son is in jail and when I sleep that is the last thing I pray for which is his release! All my senses are abused and hurt by what has happened to my son and until this ends and my son is out, I will continue to scream that this is a grave injustice that has happened to us just because we are Muslims.â€
â€œI wake up every morning as if I were dead but I am still counted as alive. I wake up hoping that this world never existed that there was no such thing as life! In spite of all this pain, I have to pull all my shattered pieces together and go to work,â€ Laila told TMO.
Ziyad Yaghi, #51771-056; Federal Correctional Complex-USP-2; PO Box 1034; Coleman, FL 33521-0879.