MANHATTAN (CN) – A jury began deliberations Monday afternoon on terrorism charges connected to the nonfatal explosion that disrupted Times Square last year.
Federal defenders representing Akayed Ullah never disputed during the five-day trial that the 28-year old Bangladeshi national exploded a pipe bomb strapped to his chest in a corridor between the Port Authority bus terminal and the New York subway system last December.
What they have insisted on, however, is that the government is overreaching to connect Ullah, an electrician living in Brooklyn, to the Islamic State group.
“This is not a suicide bombing; this is not a terrorist attack; this act is not about ISIS,” defense attorney Amy Gallichio said this afternoon, using a common abbreviation for the global terrorist group. “Mr. Ullah is not an ISIS operative in our midst. This is a public suicide attempt.”
Gallichio told jurors that the government had “woefully failed to prove” that Ullah had provided any material support to ISIS. The prosecution’s evidence “boils down to some videos on a laptop that they say he watched and inspired him to take his actions,” Gallichio added.
Gallicihio told the jurors that the propaganda videos shown to them last week by the prosecution were intended to recruit foreign fighters to carry out their wars in Iraq and Syria, predating the group’s call for lone wolf attacks worldwide.
“ISIS is a brutal organization,” Gallichio said. “It does indeed direct attacks and it takes credit for them; ISIS did not take credit for Mr. Ullah’s attacks and we should not give them credit in this case.”
Attorneys for the government meanwhile worked to show that Ullah was radicalized by ISIS to kill and terrorize New Yorkers. During summations today, they repeatedly invoked three ISIS-related slogans that Ullah used online and scrawled on his belongings: “America, Die in Your Rage,” “O Trump you fail to protect your nation,” and “Baqiyah,” an Arabic expression meaning “remaining.”
ISIS uses the phrase in its slogan “baqiya wa tatamadad,” which translates to “remaining and expanding.”
Prosecutors noted that on the morning of the attack, while Ullah took a Manhattan-bound A train with his homemade bomb zip-tied to his chest, he posted a message to Facebook: “O Trump you fail to protect your nation.”
Gallichio offered an explanation for Ullah’s usage of “Baqiyah,” however, saying the expression was not necessarily enough of a declaration of allegiance to ISIS to show intent because the word is also used online as a “hashtag for fanboys and groupies.”
Similarly, Gallichio argued that Ullah’s repeated usage of “Die in your rage” was a reference to a nonviolent verse in the Quran. She also said that Ullah’s repeated mention of the phrase was proof of mental illness.
Gallichio insisted that Ullah’s Facebook post addressed to President Donald Trump was another sign his mental state at the time.
Though the defense has argued that the explosion was an apolitical suicide attempt, prosecutors pushed the jury to reject this. “He could have chosen any of the tragic ways people choose to take their own life without exposing other people to danger,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn Crowley said during her 30-minute rebuttal today. “He didn’t say, ‘I Kill Myself in Rage.’ … Don’t let him run from what he’s done.”
The closing summation today from Assistant U.S. Attorney George Turner ran for 70 minutes. Displaying a jagged metal fragment of the pipe bomb, Turner noted that Ullah added metal screws for shrapnel as “a deadly enhancement, designed to make the bomb more lethal.”
Turner told jurors that Ullah’s lone-wolf attack provided service and personnel to ISIS and made him “a soldier of the caliphate.”
Ullah is charged with providing support to a foreign terrorist organization, use of a weapon of mass destruction, bombing a place of public use, destruction of public property by means of fire or explosive, terrorist attack against mass transportation systems and use of a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence.
If convicted of all six counts, Ullah faces potential life sentence and a mandatory minimum consecutive sentence of 30 years in prison.
Jury deliberations began Monday afternoon just after 3 p.m.
The trial is being held before U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan in the Southern District of New York.