On Friday, in a court ruling that went with little local notice, a federal judge sentenced a former student at the University of Texas at Dallas to six and a half years in prison for his involvement with the so-called “Houston Taliban.” Syed Maaz Shah, 20, had a full four-year scholarship to study electrical engineering at UTD, but he was busted late last year for firing an Armalite M-15 assault weapon during two camping trips with three other foreign students at an alleged jihad training camp. The property in Willis, north of Houston, was owned by the Islamic Society of Greater Houston.
As Dallas' Only Daily reported in May, when he was convicted, the Pakistani on an expired student visa had been banned from using firearms. But in February, Shah wrote a letter to the UTD Mercury in February, offering a defense that would make the National Rifle Association proud:
"I was invited by my friends to go camping and have a good time, and that's what we had. Isn't it mind-boggling that someone can be placed in prison for merely going to a shooting range? ... I mean, for God's sake, we live in Texas ..."
Ah, the old Second Amendment defense. But Shad allegedly had hair-raising jihadist literature on his dorm computer, including a file called “Statue of Liberty in Burka,” and told the FBI he was training for “what may come” and called the U.S. military presence in Iraq an “invasion.” A co-defendant pleaded guilty to gun charges and admitted to raising money for the Taliban. Shah was convicted on two counts of “alien in possession of a firearm affecting interstate commerce.”
Dallas lawyer Frank Jackson told the judge that the government had used an informant and an undercover officer to snare his client in a covert operation and then inflated simple weapons charges into terrorism, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The covert FBI special agent claimed that Shah had held up his passport to other members of the group and said, “Do you want to see the passport of a terrorist?”
Shah said it was all a cultural misunderstanding. The FBI didn’t understand what words like jihad really mean. To Shah, jihad was a personal struggle he dealt with by volunteering hundreds of hours to helping the homeless and hungry. The Holy Land Foundation officers offered much the same defense during the federal trial, which is wrapping up in a Dallas federal court. Closing arguments in that case began yesterday. --Glenna Whitley
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.