A former roommate of a man charged with orchestrating a foiled attack on an anti-Islam cartoon contest in Texas testified Friday about the defendant's increasingly radicalized statements about wanting to violently attack non-Muslims and seek revenge against people who portrayed the Prophet Muhammad in drawings.
Witness Stefan Verdugo said 44-year-old Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem watched jihadist beheading videos and news coverage of the January 2015 attack on the French newspaper Charlie Hedbo.
He showed up in court wearing an orange jail uniform.
He said Kareem, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi became intent on making a stand for their Muslim brothers when they learned of a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas.
"They both pretty much agreed on some type of revenge," Verdugo said of Kareem and Simpson.
“Elton said they should go there and make a stand and that people can’t just disgraced their god," he said. "They constantly talked about going there and taking a stand."
As days got closer to the attack, Verdugo testified that Kareem was having second thoughts.
“He told him that he couldn’t go through with it," he said. "I told him he should not be influenced like that and that he has stuff to live for."
In regards to Kareem, Verdugo said he was always Muslim, "but he got more into the religion in 2010."
“In 2014, I noticed radical behavior and how he spoke about people who weren’t Muslim," Verdugo said. "He wanted to blow up non-believers.”
The 25-year-old Verdugo is a key government witness in the case against Kareem, who also is charged with supporting the Islamic State terrorist group. He is currently being housed at the Lower Buckeye Jail on a long list of charges including sex assault, kidnapping, aggravated assault, imprisonment.
Kareem denies the allegations and claims the government is using guilt through associations to target him.
He wore an orange jail jumpsuit and handcuffs during his testimony.
Verdugo said Kareem told him about plans for the Texas contest during a car ride.
"He just said that they were going to do something over there. They didn't tell me they were going to shoot it up," said Verdugo, claiming he urged his friend not to carry out the attack.
Kareem later backed out of the attack but insisted to Verdugo that Simpson and Soofi would still follow through with the plan.
Verdugo said he called authorities after getting word of the May 3 attack in Garland, where Simpson and Soofi were killed in a shootout with police.
Kareem's views got more radical in 2014 as he pushed Islam beliefs on others and expressed a desire to blow up nonbelievers, Verdugo said.
Kareem, Simpson and Soofi regularly went target shooting in the desert after observing Friday prayers at a mosque, said Verdugo, adding that he joined them on two such trips.
On New Year’s day 2015 Verdugo, Kareem and Elton Simpson were at a house together and discussed bomb making skills.
“It was New Year's Day, I was taken a part fireworks, and I was putting them in 2-liter water bottles and putting them in milk cartons and blowing them up,” Verdugo said.
Verdugo said he was doing it for the kids that were hanging out in the neighborhood. He said Kareem thought it was neat.
“He asked me if I knew how to make or where to get pipe bombs."
He admitted in court that he knew how to make a pipe bomb because of his family’s military background.
Verdugo said Kareem also claimed to be part of the Islamic State.
"We thought it was kind of funny at first, then he got kind of crazy about it," Verdugo said.
Kareem remained stoic throughout Verdugo's testimony.
Verdugo said authorities haven't promised him any favorable treatment for his testimony.
The defense asked Verdugo why he had not reported Kareem and Simpson’s plan to get pipe bombs for the Cardinals stadium when Kareem started to talk about it.
Verdugo testified that he didn’t take them seriously. He admitted to working with FBI agents around the time he got arrested for his current charges.
He said he was given $500 dollars, but he didn’t know what that was for.
Through questioning, the defense also asked the witness about mistakes made in the summary report created by agents. This summary report is typically written after talking with a witness. Agents did not record the interview and relied on the notes made in the conversation.
In the past, the defense has filed a motion, asking for the charges of making false statements to be dismissed because there was no recording of the interview and the only basis for the false statements were based off of a summary report created by agents one day after doing the interview.