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Individual Terrorists

Ali Al-Timimi

Updated March 19, 2009

Ali Al-Timimi, a former Islamic lecturer born in Washington, DC, was alleged in a federal indictment to be the spiritual leader of the Virginia Paintball Jihad Network, a group of eleven men indicted of crimes related to terrorism. Al-Timimi was indicted in 2004 and was convicted in 2005 of soliciting and engaging others to levy war against the United States and attempting to contribute services to the Taliban. Members of the Virginia Paintball Jihad cell testified at Al-Timimi's trial that shortly after September 11, 2001 he convinced several of them to travel to Pakistan to obtain training for jihad from the U.S. designated Foreign Terrorist Organization Lashkar e Taibah.[1] He was sentenced to life in prison plus 70 years without parole.

The son of Iraqi immigrants, Al-Timimi was born in 1963 and attended school in the Washington DC area.[2] At the age of 15, he moved to Saudi Arabia with his family. While in high school in Riyadh, he was taught by Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, a Canadian-raised Salafist.[3] Although he condemns suicide bombings, Philips' teachings have inspired other militants. Al-Timimi's time overseas inspired him to learn more about his Islamic heritage, and consequently he went back to Saudi Arabia in 1987 and enrolled at the Islamic University in Medina.[4] At the university Al-Timimi studied under other prominent Salafist Clerics at the expense of the Saudi Government. Upon returning to the United States, Al-Timimi received a bachelor's degree in biology and computer science and a Ph.D in computational biology.[5]

Al-Timimi lived in the DC area to work as a software engineer for several prominent computer firms.[6] He became a founding member of the Center for Islamic Education and Information in northern Virginia, also known as Dar al-Arqam, where he lectured frequently.[7] Simultaneously he continued his missionary work, retaining the severe interpretations that he was introduced to abroad. For example, when asked, by an audience member during a lecture he gave whether it is permissible for a Sunni to pray with a Shiite, Al-Timimi responded: "Ok, you cannot pray behind any of these people. In fact if we were in an Islamic state these people their, their heads should be, you know, lopped off, that's what, you know, should be done to these people. They deserve nothing better than to just cut their necks, if we were in an Islamic country. To be [UI word] to make the chance to make repentance and if they do not repent to cut their necks, that's what these people deserve."[8] The Virginia Paintball members came to look up to Al-Timimi through his speeches at the center which reflected the political Salafism he had been exposed to in Saudi Arabia.

It appears that the plot alleged by the government took hold when the cell members gathered for a meeting to discuss the implications of the 9/11 attacks and the expected invasion of Afghanistan.[9] Court documents noted that cell member Yong Kwon "organized a meeting at the urging of Al-Timimi to address how Muslims could protect themselves, and invited only those brothers who had participated in paintball training and owned weapons."[10] According to witness testimony, after September 11, 2001, "Al-Timimi stated that the attacks may not be Islamically permissible, but that they were not a tragedy, because they were brought on by American foreign policy."[11]

Yong Kwon testified that based on Al-Timimi's lecture that night, he felt "it didn't matter why the war was going to happen. The only thing that mattered is that our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan need help against imminent attack. So our duty is to go defend them."[12] According to the indictment, Al-Timimi "provided…historical examples from Islamic history justifying attacks on civilians," argued that "mujahideen killed while fighting Americans in Afghanistan would die as martyrs" and further recommended that those listening "obtain jihad training from Lashkar e Taiba because its belief system was good and it focused on combat."[13]


[1] USA v. Royer, et al, 03-CR-296. 'Indictment.' (ED VA 25 June 2003).; USA v. Al Timimi, 04-CR-385. 'Judgment.' (ED VA 13 July 2005).

[2] "Campaigns : Ali Al Timimi," CagePrisoners.com, http://www.cageprisoners.com/campaigns.php?cat=10 (Accessed August 23, 2007).

[3] Sando Contenta, 'Dragged into the spotlight', Toronto Star, 28 July 2005.

[4] "Ali Al-Timimi: A Life of Learning," The Muslim Link as quoted on Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jammah Association of Australia Website, http://www.iisca.org/articles/document.jsp?id=97 (Accessed August 23, 2007).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Milton Viorst, "The Education of Ali Al-Timimi," The Atlantic Monthly, June 2006.

[7] Ibid.

[8] USA v. Al Timimi, 04-CR-385 "Defendant's Reply to the Government's Response to Defendant's Post-Trial Motions, p. 11 (ED VA, June 28, 2005).

[9] Matthew Barakat, "Charge: Islamic lecturer exhorted Va. Muslims to join Taliban," Associated Press, September 23, 2004.

[10] USA v. Khan, 03-CR-296A, "Memorandum Opinion," p. 33 (ED VA, March 4, 2004)

[11] Ibid., p. 31.

[12] USA v. Al Timimi, 04-CR-385. "Trial Transcript" p. 17 (ED VA September 23, 2004).

[13] USA v. Al Timimi, 04-CR-385. "Indictment" p. 17 (ED VA).