MOBILE, Alabama (Reuters) - Accused jihadist Randy “Rasheed” Wilson pleaded guilty on Friday in U.S. District Court to conspiracy to travel to Africa with another man to support efforts to “maim, murder and kidnap” in the name of Islam.
Clad in a beige prison jumpsuit with his attorney at his side, Wilson quietly answered “Yes, ma‘am” when Judge Kristi DuBose asked if he understood the charges against him and that he would be waiving his rights to a trial by pleading guilty.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Bodnar said Wilson was planning to join a war, or jihad, between Muslims and non-believers. He quoted Wilson as saying: “Either we kill and defeat them or they are going to kill and defeat us.”
Jihad had various meanings, Bodnar said, but in this case it had a very specific meaning, involving “violence and fighting in which people are injured and die.”
Wilson’s lawyer, Domingo Soto, had previously asked the court to drop the charges because Wilson’s remarks were general, vague and protected by the First Amendment.
Bodnar read numerous excerpts from taped conversations between Wilson, 26, and Mohammad Abdul Rahman Abukhdair, 25, a Syracuse, N.Y. resident who came to live with Wilson and his family in Mobile in 2011.
After an undercover investigation that began in October 2010, in December 2012 the pair were taken into custody in separate locations in Georgia - Wilson at the Atlanta airport and Abukhdair at an Augusta bus station.
Wilson and his family were attempting to board a flight to Morocco, and he and Abukhdair planned to rendezvous later in Mauritania on the western Africa coast, according to the FBI.
The investigation included an undercover agent watching videos with Wilson and Abukhdair that included beheading and mutilation of corpses, soldiers and children.
Bodnar’s testimony on Friday described discussions between Wilson and Abukhdair about the pros and cons of supporting jihad in various locations, with their ultimately ruling out countries, such as Somalia, deemed too risky.
The testimony also included the pair opening a short-lived cologne store to “throw the FBI off their trail,” and dumping their computers and phones into Mobile Bay when they thought they were being trailed.
Wilson, born in Mobile, was raised a Muslim from when he was 4 or 5 years old after his mother married an Egyptian Muslim.
Although Wilson’s mother and the man are no longer together, the family remained committed to Islam and Wilson stayed close to his stepfather. For a time, the family lived in Birmingham where the young Wilson attended an Islamic school.
After the hearing, Soto told Reuters that Wilson was one of a small group of young Muslim men in the Mobile area who drew the suspicion of federal authorities, including accused jihadist Omar Hammami, part of a terrorist-linked group in Somalia.
Wilson and Hammami were friends, according to Soto. “They’re the same age, they hung out together in the mosque,” Soto said.
Hammami is still at large. In March, the U.S. announced a $5 million bounty for information leading to his capture.
Soto said that his client is willing to testify against his co-defendant Abukhdair.
Wilson’s sentencing is set for October 18 while Abukhdair’s charges are pending and a status hearing is set for May 7. His trial is scheduled for August.
Editing by David Adams and Nick Zieminski