Aspiring jihadist Betim Kaziu has been convicted in New York court of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization, conspiracy to commit murder, and other terrorism-related charges. His around-the-world trip for jihad, during which he tried to join numerous terrorist organizations, could end with a life sentence.
The plot by Kaziu and his childhood friend Sulejah Hadzovic, who were both first generation Americans, descended with Macedonian roots, was born out a desire to avenge the deaths of Muslims at the hands of American forces.
"We were upset at what was happening in places like Abu Gharaib prison and Guantanamo Bay, how they were humiliating and torturing Muslims there. ... It's what ultimately made us want to go and fight in jihad," Hadzovic told the court. He also told jurors that he could no longer stay in the United States because "being a Muslim, we're stereotyped and somebody sees somebody with a beard, they automatically label him a terrorist."
Similar motivations have been behind a string of homegrown terrorist plots, including the recent arrest of a Seattle man charged with plotting to attack a military processing center.
Kaziu and Hadzovic left the United States for Egypt after hearing speeches by American al-Qaida ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki and subscribing to a radical form of Islam. In Cairo, they tried to determine which branch of al-Qaida they wanted to join, until Hadzovic wavered. President Obama's 2009 Cairo speech, which extended a hand to the Muslim world, shook his confidence in the idea of taking up arms to defend Muslims.
Hadzovic soon returned to the United States, but Kaziu continued with his plan to join al-Qaida. After being turned down by several branches of the organization, Kaziu traveled to Albania and Kosovo, where he was arrested. Meanwhile, Hadzovic agreed to testify against his childhood friend in exchange for a lesser sentence.
"The defendant desired to wage jihad," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ali Kazemi said in his closing argument. "He never intended to return to the United States. He hoped to die a martyr."