Three Muslim men who tried to burn down the home of a publisher for printing a book about the Prophet Mohammad were each sentenced to four-and-a-half-year prison terms Tuesday.
After Abbas Taj, Abrar Mirza and Ali Beheshti learned that Gibson Square Books was going to publish The Jewel of Medina - a novel about Aisha, favorite wife of Mohammed - they traveled to the firm's headquarters on September 27, 2008 and tried to set it on fire with gasoline. The building was also the home of Gibson Square Publishing owner Martin Rynja.
The court heard testimony that Mirza and Beheshti were seen carrying out reconnaissance "drive throughs" of the area in the weeks before the attack. The pair was observed approaching the front door of the publisher's house with a gasoline can in a plastic bag, pouring diesel fuel through the letter box and using a disposable lighter in an attempt to set it on fire.
Police officers who had the group under surveillance arrested Mirza and Beheshti as they tried to run off. Taj, who was supposed to be the getaway driver, was arrested near a local subway station as he tried to escape.
Beheshti, ringleader of the terror cell, was a former member of the jihadist group al-Muhajiroun. He had set himself on fire while attempting to burn a picture of President Bush at a May 2005 demonstration. In 2006, Beheshti took his 20-month old daughter, dressed in an "I love al Qaida" hat, to protests against controversial Danish cartoons of Mohammed. In photographs found in his home, Beheshti was pictured holding a sword and posing with a gun.
Taj, a Somalia native, came to Britain as a teenager in the mid-1990s and recently served as a trustee of the Muslim Prisoner Support Group, which advocates on behalf of Muslim inmates jailed in the United Kingdom.
Random House initially agreed to publish The Jewel of Medina, written by Spokane, Washington author Sherry Jones. But it capitulated in May 2008 after warnings that Muslims might react violently to publication of the book.
Thomas Perry, deputy publisher at Random House Publishing Group, said that after sending out advance copies of the novel, the company received advice "not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but that it also could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."
After consulting with security experts and Islamic scholars, Perry said the company decided "to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in the distribution and sale of the novel." Read more about that decision here.
Read more about the terrorist plot against Gibson Square Books here.