(CN) - Three Muslim men convicted of conspiring to attack the U.S. Marine base at Quantico were not victims of an "Orwellian 'thoughtcrime'" because they intended to act on their convictions, the 4th Circuit ruled.
In 2009, Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, Ziyad Yaghi and Hysen Sherifi, along with five other Muslims not involved in this appeal, were convicted of conspiring to attack the Marine base in Quantico, Va., and to materially support violet jihad in foreign countries.
Members of this North Carolina-based terrorist cell practiced military tactics and the use of weapons, while traveling to Gaza, Israel, Jordan and Kosovo in the hopes of making their way to Palestine to engage in jihad.
They often discussed jihad as an obligation of every Muslim man, espousing the notion that the "true believers" of Islam were under attack, both physically and ideologically from "naysayers of our religion."
Hassan was sentenced to 10 years in prison, Yaghi to 20, and Sherifi to life in prison, after he also plotted from behind bars to behead the three FBI agents and other government informants who testified at his trial.
A three-judge panel of the Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit upheld their convictions and sentences Tuesday, finding the First Amendment does not protect their actions.
"The appellants contend that the trial court committed reversible error in its handling of the argument that their speech espousing violent jihad was protected by the First Amendment," Judge Robert King wrote for the court. "Concomitantly, the appellants assert that they never agreed to take action in connection with their beliefs and expressions, and thus were prosecuted purely for their offensive discourse. Of course, their argument ignores that the jury found - as it was required to do in order to convict - that the appellants had, in fact, agreed to take action in furtherance of violent jihad."
For example, the defendants each traveled abroad with the hope of reaching Palestine, so they could join the jihad against Israel. They also bought and trained with automatic weapons, and attempted to recruit others to join the cause.
"Although linking the appellants to extremist jihadist groups was undoubtedly prejudicial, it was not unfairly so," the 104-page ruling states. "Indeed, the charges that were lodged against the appellants meant that the prosecution would necessarily seek to establish that link."
The court also upheld the requirement at trial for the government to prove that the posts and YouTube links on defendants' Facebook pages were linked to Hassan and Yaghi.
One Hassan post cited in the ruling was the rhyme "I used to smoke tree / but I dont do that shit no more that shits far / only thing I smoke now is fuckin kuffar / getting high off their deaths / fuck buryin them, let the animals eat their flesh / leave their bones for weapons or for conditioning my shins[.]" Kuffar is a derogatory term for a non-Muslim person.
Hassan also posted a video of himself working out that opened with religious quotes, and of his marksmanship with a rifle, according to the ruling.
"The trial record reveals that the appellants strove to conceal their nefarious activities from outsiders uncommitted to violent revolution around the world, habitually congregating in secret to discuss their plans and to reinforce, in the manner of zealots, each other's resolve," King wrote. "That the conspiracy was infiltrated and almost all of its cohorts arrested before they could bring their criminal schemes to fruition should in no way inspire the conclusion that the appellants have been prosecuted for merely harboring ideas, convicted of nothing more than an Orwellian 'thoughtcrime.'
"To the contrary, the evidence reveals that the appellants are dangerous men who freely and frequently exercised their constitutional right to speak, to be sure, but who also demonstrated a steadfast propensity towards action," he continued. "Before the appellants' actions could escalate to visit grievous harm upon the government, other countries, or innocent civilians, the FBI and its associates timely intervened. The laudable efforts of law enforcement and the prosecutors have ensured that, on this occasion at least, we will not be left to second-guess how a terrorist attack could have been prevented."
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