Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lawyer for ex-Staten Islander requests exclusion of Jews from jury in terror trial 

The lawyer for former Staten Island resident and accused wanna-be terrorist Abdel Hameed Shehadeh has asked a federal judge to exclude Jews from serving on the jury, saying his client's anti-Israeli views might set jurors against him.

Jury selection in the trial of the former Annadale and Prince's Bay resident is scheduled to start this week.

Shehadeh's attorney, Frederick Cohn -- himself Jewish -- first broached the possibility of such a request at an earlier court hearing. "Your honor ... as you know, I'm not wild about having Jews on the jury in this case," Cohn told Judge Eric Vitaliano in February. "Given that there's going to be inflammatory testimony about Jews and Zionism, I think it would be hard for Jews to cast aside any innate antipathy. The American Jewish community is heavily aligned with Israel and Zionism. Here is a guy who is a Muslim, who is opposed to those things."

Such a move -- excluding jurors on the basis of religion -- would be considered unconstitutional, federal prosecutors William Sarratt and James Loonam argued: "I don't think Judge [Robert] Levy will be ready to violate the Constitution and exclude people from the jury on the basis of their religious beliefs," Sarratt told the judge, according to published reports.

Magistrate Judge Levy -- who is also Jewish -- is set to begin jury selection this week.

Shehadeh, now a resident of Hawaii, is charged with three counts of making false statements to the FBI regarding a trip to Pakistan during which he allegedly attempted to join the Taliban.

A one-time Tottenville High School student, Shehadeh so wanted to join a jihadist group that he allegedly flew to Pakistan and Jordan in 2008 but was turned away by both countries. The U.S. citizen also tried, unsuccessfully, that year to enlist in the U.S. Army, as a means to deploy to Iraq, where he intended to commit "treason" and kill U.S. soldiers, prosecutors allege.

In 2009, Shehadeh bought an airline ticket to Dubai in June, but was intercepted by FBI agents who told him he was on a "no fly" list.

In subsequent interviews, he allegedly admitted he had hoped to join the Taliban and receive training in "guerrilla warfare" and "bomb-making," according to court records.

Cohn has also been seeking to suppress an FBI report in which Shehadeh made incriminating statements about himself and also implicated dozens of other New Yorkers he felt were pro-jihadists, including a student from the College of Staten Island.

Shehadeh was arrested in 2010 by the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force, which had been investigating him, "and several other individuals in connection with a plot to travel overseas and wage violent jihad against the United States and other coalition military forces," according to the criminal complaint against Shehadeh.

The trial will take place at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn. If convicted for his crimes, Shehadeh may serve up to 24 years in prison.


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