MANHATTAN (CN) - A Pakistan-born U.S. citizen pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring to help al-Qaida. The trial of Syed "Fahad" Hashmi, who has spent 3 years in solitary confinement since his 2006 arrest at London's Heathrow Airport, was scheduled to begin this morning.
Hashmi, 30, faces up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced in June. Had he gone to trial and been convicted of the four counts of terrorism leveled against him, he could have received a 70-year sentence.
The former Queens resident admitted in court that while attending graduate school in England, he knew that a friend who stayed with him for two weeks in 2004 was storing ponchos, waterproof socks and sleeping bags meant for al-Qaida, according to The Associated Press.
Hashmi also admitted he allowed the friend to use his cell phone to arrange meetings with terrorists and he gave his friend $300 to book a plane ticket to Pakistan, where al-Qaida fighters would receive the "military gear," as prosecutors described the goods.
The AP reported that Hashmi punctuated his responses in court Tuesday with shows of "religious enthusiasm," such as, "By the grace of Allah, yes."
Prosecutors said Hashmi belonged to the New York chapter of Al Muhajiroun, a radical Islamist group dedicated to overthrowing Western society.
Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska had ruled that an anonymous jury would hear the case, though defense lawyers had said doing so would prejudice the jury against their client, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Prosecutors argued that anonymity was necessary since they planned to enter into evidence photos of Hashmi rallying in Queens with a radical Islamic organization, and jurors might suspect that any of Hashmi's supporters in court would have similar radical leanings.
Human rights organizations have rallied against Hashmi's pretrial treatment, with supporters attending candlelight vigils outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan where Hashmi had been held in isolation for the past 3 years.
Jeanne Theoharis, a political science professor who once taught Hashmi at Brooklyn College, wrote in an op-ed for Slate that Hashmi has faced the same inhumane conditions "inflicted on many Guantanamo detainees."
"For my seminar, he wrote a research paper on the abridgement of the civil liberties of Muslim-American groups in the United States after 9/11. Now it is his rights that have been violated," she wrote for Slate.
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