HOUSTON (CN) – A 30-year-old Texan was convicted of trying to provide material support to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Barry Walter Bujol Jr. faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
Bujol had been in contact with Anwar al-Awlaqi, a now-deceased Yemeni-American imam and recruiter for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), federal prosecutors said. Awlaqi’s sermons, available on the Internet, are said to have inspired three of the Sept. 11 hijackers, the “Fort Hood shooter” Nidal Hasan, and the “Christmas Day bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, prosecutors said.
Awlaqi was killed in Yemen on Sept. 30 by U.S. drone strike.
The charges against Bujol came out of an FBI investigation that started in 2009, and involved an undercover agent, called a confidential human shield or CHS by prosecutors, who posed as an AQAP recruiter who wanted to help Bujol with his goal of carrying out violent jihad.
Bujol was arrested on May 30, 2010, after boarding a ship at the Port of Houston, “which Bujol believed was bound for Algeria, where he would stay at an Al Qaeda safe house before continuing on to Yemen,” prosecutors said in a statement announcing his conviction.
Bujol, of Hempstead, Texas, and a former student at Prairie View A&M University, intended to stow away in the ship to join AQAP, and deliver to al Qaeda restricted military manuals and global position system receivers, among other items, which the undercover had given him, prosecutors said.
FBI agents arranged for the undercover agent to meet Bujol in 2009 after he made three attempts to leave the United States for the Middle East “but law enforcement, believing these were Bujol’s efforts to make ‘violent jihad,’ thwarted him each time he tried to leave,” prosecutors said in the statement.
Court records show that in an e-mail correspondence “Bujol had asked Al-Awlaqi for advice on raising money for the ‘mujahideen’ without attracting police attention and on his duty as a Muslim to make ‘violent jihad.’ Al-Awlaqi replied to Bujol’s e-mails by sending Bujol a document entitled ’42 Ways of Supporting Jihad,’ which asserted that ‘jihad’ is the greatest deed in Islam … [and] obligatory on every Muslim,” prosecutors said.
Bujol, who has been in custody since his May 2010 arrest, requested a bench trial before U.S. District Judge David Hittner. The trial lasted nearly four days, and Bujol served as his own attorney.
Bujol did not testify on his own behalf or call any witnesses. Hittner took the weekend to review evidence and on Monday afternoon found Bujol guilty on both counts with which he was charged: attempt to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization and aggravated identity theft.
Court records show that Bujol tried to prove his mettle to the undercover agent and AQAP by performing “training exercises” involving surveillance, and covert communications. Bujol also emailed the undercover agent articles about military unmanned aerial vehicles and how the information could help AQAP, prosecutors said.
In emails Bujol repeatedly told the undercover agent that AQAP should attack the humans operating the unmanned aircraft, instead of the aircraft themselves, and discussed multiple targets, including one in Southern Texas, prosecutors said.
“On May 30, 2010, the CHS contacted Bujol with a code word they previously agreed would signal the beginning of Bujol’s travel to the Middle East to join AQAP. They drove together to the Port of Houston where the CHS told Bujol he would stow away on a ship bound for Algeria. After a short stay in Algeria for training, the CHS told Bujol he would travel to Yemen to fight for AQAP. The CHS gave Bujol various items to carry to AQAP’s purported operative in Algeria, which included two public access restricted military manuals, global position system receivers, pre-paid international calling cards, SIM cards and approximately 2,000 in Euros, among other items. Bujol secured these items in his baggage and quickly boarded the ship. Minutes after stowing away in a room on board the ship, agents took him into custody without incident.
“Simultaneously, agents executed a search warrant on his apartment and his laptop computer. On the computer, agents found a homemade video montage of still photographs, including images of Osama bin Laden, Najibullah Zazi and multiple armed ‘mujahideen’ fighters, which Bujol narrated. On the video, which was offered into evidence at trial, he addressed his words to his wife, explaining that he had left her suddenly and without forewarning to pursue ‘jihad.’ Bujol told her he would likely not see her until the afterlife,” prosecutors said in the statement.
The aggravated identity theft charge stems from the undercover agent using a passport photo and false name Bujol gave him to get him a phony Transportation Security Administration worker identity card that Bujol used to get into the Port of Houston.
Bujol faces 15 years maximum in prison for the terrorism charge, and an extra 5 years for the aggravated identity theft charge, and a $250,000 fine.