Bangladeshi-American who wanted to join Taliban convicted on terrorism-related charges

NEW YORK – An Uber driver who saved his earnings to travel to Afghanistan where he hoped to join the Taliban and kill Americans was convicted Friday after less than two days of deliberations on two charges related to his plan to support and serve the terrorist organization.

Delowar Mohammed Hossain, 36, was found guilty of attempting to provide material support for terrorism and attempting to make a contribution of resources to the Taliban. Combined, he faces up to 35 years in prison when he’s sentenced. A sentencing date was scheduled for early next year.

Hossain, who was free on bond during his trial, was taken into custody after the verdict. Jury deliberations started early Thursday afternoon and a verdict was reached around 3 p.m. Friday.

The Bronx resident who worked as a driver for the ride app was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in July 2019 when he was expecting to fly to Thailand – a stop prosecutors argued was part of his protracted route to Taliban territory. The details of his travel were designed to shake off any law enforcement that might be suspicious of his intentions, federal prosecutors said.

“We are disappointed by the verdict. We maintain that Delowar never had the intent to join the Taliban and that the evidence did not demonstrate he would have ever traveled to Afghanistan,” Hossain’s attorneys Andrew Dalack and Amy Gallicchio said in a statement Friday evening.

Hossain’s arrest occurred prior to the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan following two-decades of conflict there, a controversial decision that President Biden has defended. As the last U.S. soldiers and allied forces withdrew from the region, the Taliban swiftly regained power by overpowering Afghan soldiers that had been trained by the U.S. military.

The Taliban has been designated a terrorist organization for years.

Hossain, a naturalized U.S. citizen and Bangladesh native, took pains to not appear to be a religious extremist to authorities, according to prosecutors. He trimmed his beard and hair, switching from traditional garb to American clothing. His goal was to make it to Pakistan where he believed he could cross the border into Afghanistan, according to evidence presented at his two-week trial.

His true objective was intercepted by a pair of FBI informants who he believed were his recruits to join him in “jihad,” or a holy war. The informants collected evidence against Hossain which was presented at his trial. The FBI learned about Hossain through one of the informants – a Bronx bodega owner who encountered him at a mosque.

“[Hossain] wanted to be a terrorist, and he did everything, everything in his power, to make that happen,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Fender argued in summations Thursday.

In the time before his travel date, Hossain made credit card charges that he believed would help conceal his purpose for going overseas, processing transactions at bars and strip clubs in an effort to make him appear to be “a bad Muslim,” according to the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.

Prosecutors said he saved $10,000 for weapons and other supplies he believed he would need in Afghanistan.

Lawyers for Hossain argued he was set up by the informants and that his bluster about wanting to commit murder and join the Taliban was just talk. The evidence, they argued, will not show he was going to take actual steps to get there.

“Thinking about committing a crime isn’t a crime,” Hossain’s lawyer Amy Gallicchio argued in her closing argument. “And the government cannot police your thoughts or even your misguided admiration of the Taliban.”

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