Opening statements begin in AZ terror trial

Posted at 5:43 PM, Feb 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-17 22:20:35-05

Opening statements began Wednesday in Phoenix for the first ISIS-connected trial. 

Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem is facing five terrorism-related charges, including making false statements and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

The U.S. government told a jury of 16 that Kareem was part of a trio that set out to commit mass murder.

“Of the three, only one is here today. The defendant is here because of the role he played in the attack,” U.S. attorney Kristine Brooke said.

Brooke told jurors that Kareem was the man who stayed behind in hopes that his role would not be revealed. 

“He was the trainer, the motivator and bankroller,” Brooke said.

Kareem is accused of attempting to plot an attack on the Super Bowl in Glendale. He is also accused of plotting the attack against the Mohammed Cartoon Drawing contest in Garland, Texas.

U.S. officials told jurors that Kareem trained and help the suspected shooters, Nadir Soofi and Elton Simpson.

Kareem lived with Simpson in 2012. Law enforcement conducted a search warrant on their home for an unrelated case. Kareem’s computer was taken and, after the attacks in Garland, another search warrant revealed violent jihadist material was on his computer.

“Shortly after, Thomas [Abdul Kareem] moved out of the apartment because he thought the FBI was watching him. He cut off contact with Simpson because he was suspicious that the FBI was watching him,” Brooke said.

The defense fired back in their opening statements.

“Kareem stopped living with Simpson because they had a falling out. Kareem thought Simpson was following him and put a tracking device on him, so he distanced himself,” Kareem’s attorney, Daniel Maynard, said.

Federal agents said that after Kareem moved out, Simpson and Soofi moved into an apartment together with Soofi’s brother, Ali. 

Brooke claims Kareem would visit the apartment and watch violent jihadist video, spending a lot of time at the home.

The government showed jurors a propaganda message released by ISIS in the fall of 2014 calling on foreign actors to attack in support of ISIL. The message said the following:

“The best thing you can do it to strive to do your best and kill any disbeliever, whether he be French, American or from any of their allies. Kill the disbeliever, whether he be civilian or military. Attack their bases not to let them feel secure.”

U.S. officials said that in January of 2015 Kareem bought a gun in a parking lot and asked the seller if he had more guns. Several days later, he asked that same seller about pipe bombs. The man later became a confidential informant in the case against Kareem. The FBI obtained a recorded conversation between Kareem and the informant about pipe bombs.

Kareem’s defense told the jury that they “need to keep in mind the motivation of the government’s witness.”

Court documents revealed that the confidential informant had been arrested for domestic violence and kidnapping during that time. He was also paid $500 for his information.

Government officials also said that Kareem took Soofi and Simpson to the desert for weapons training 

“That’s not what happened. Kareem happened to be at a birthday party that Nadir and Soofi also attended. And the three were in the back shooting guns because they were out in the desert,” Maynard said.

Brooke also told the jurors that Kareem tried to convert and recruit two teens who lived across the street from him on Cochise Road. 

“Kareem indoctrinated them into his form of Islam. [He] told the teens that in order to be his friend they had to be Muslim. He told those teens he wanted to kill non-Muslims,” Brooke said.

Days after the Garland shooting, Kareem was interviewed by the FBI and said he wasn’t in contact with Simpson. 

The government said the group originally thought about attacking the Super Bowl and West Gate and that the defendant tried to get explosives but wasn’t able to so they decided to pick another target.

Kareem’s defense told the jurors that the defendant was born in Philadelphia, was the son of police officer and that he would never hurt anyone. Maynard said his client is only guilty by association. 

“He knew the suspects, he was friends with them. But on the day Garland happened, Kareem was at Red Lobster. He got a call from Simpson’s brother, who was trying to find out where Simpson was. Simpson’s brother told them he got a call from the media about Elton Simpson’s involvement in Garland. His nephew, who was with him at dinner, will testify that Kareem’s facial expression dramatically changed,” Maynard said.

Maynard told the jury that an interview that the FBI conducted with Kareem, in which agents claim the defendant made false statements, was never recorded. The defense said that all the jury has to rely on is the agent’s statements, and not physical proof.

The defense asked the jurors to keep an open mind, look at the technology and other evidence and to not just listen to the witnesses.