Taliban 'sympathizer' held on federal charges

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A man prosecutors characterized as a longtime Taliban sympathizer was ordered detained Friday on charges that he possessed a rifle despite a past felony conviction for drug-dealing.

Khalifa Ali Al-Akili, 34, of Wilkinsburg, formerly known as James Marvin Thomas Jr., held the rifle at an unidentified shooting range in July 2010, according to photos, a video and testimony before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell. The photos and video came from an email obtained by the Department of Homeland Security, according to an affidavit filed in the case.

When agents went to arrest Mr. Akili on Thursday, he ran, but was caught at the door to the Allegheny County Housing Authority apartment building in which he lives, as he tried to punch in a door code.

When they searched his house, they found unspecified "jihadist literature and books on U.S. military tactics," FBI Special Agent Joseph M. Bieshelt testified.

Mr. Akili is known to have expressed sympathy for the Afghan resistance movement in a 2005 conversation with a man he knew in prison, Agent Bieshelt said.

He has in the past told federal informants that he had plans to go to Pakistan and join the Taliban, Agent Bieshelt said. And he was recorded in December saying "that he was developing somebody to possibly strap a bomb on himself," said the agent.

Mr. Akili's attorney, Michael Healey, said his client has Bibles in his house, too, and said, "there's nothing to the jihadi thing." He suggested that Mr. Akili had not gone to the Middle East, Afghanistan or Pakistan since making the statements, suggesting they were bluster.

He said that no guns or ammunition were found in Mr. Akili's house, and added that the new father had recently been the subject of an apparent law-enforcement sting.

"They have sent a number of informants to try to get him to sell weapons to the informants," Mr. Healey said, but Mr. Akili rebuffed them.

Mr. Healey said Mr. Akili identified the informants as the same men investigators used to infiltrate the so-called Newburgh Four -- New York men who were convicted after recorded conversations suggested that they were plotting to blow up synagogues.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Wilson said that Mr. Akili has a history of fighting with police in incidents in 1999 and 2006, and failing to show up for court hearings. He is the subject of 16 outstanding warrants, mostly for minor infractions, he said.

Judge Mitchell weighed evidence, noting that Mr. Akili has a wife who is Somali with a United Kingdom citizenship. The judge found him to be a flight risk and a danger to the community. He will be held without bond pending trial.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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