Seven US men charged with terrorism offences

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Seven North Carolina men have been charged with conspiring to kill, kidnap and maim people overseas in the name of radical Islam.

US authorities have called the arrests a fresh warning that home-grown terrorism remains an important, if often well disguised, threat to national security.

"These charges hammer home the point that terrorists and their supporters are not confined to the remote regions of some far away land but can grow and fester right here at home," US Attorney George Holding said following a first court appearance of the seven defendants in a court in Raleigh, North Carolina. "Terrorists and their supporters are relentless and constant in their efforts to hurt and kill innocent people across the globe."

Prosecutors assert that the seven men, including Daniel Patrick Boyd, 39, and his two sons, Zakariya, 20, and 22-year-old Dylan, had been conspiring to raise funds to help people commit acts of jihad abroad and undergoing assault weapons training at their lakeside home in a rural area south of Raleigh, the state capital. Neighbours voiced surprise, saying they often saw Mr Boyd, who has a plaster-board business, walking the family dog.

The seven are being held without bail and are expected to appear at another court hearing later this week. If they are found guilty of the charges against them, detailed by a grand jury a week ago, they could face life in prison. Six of the defendants are Americans while the seventh is a legal permanent resident of the US, officials said. No response from the suspects have been reported.

"The defendants prepared themselves to engage in violent jihad and were willing to die as martyrs," the US Justice Department said. While the charges speak of conspiracies to help launch attacks and train potential terrorists, it contains no details of any plans that were actually laid let alone executed.

However, a Justice Department statement said that in June 2007, "Daniel Boyd and several other defendants departed the United States for Israel in an effort to engage in violent jihad but ultimately returned to the United States after failing in their efforts." Allegedly, one of the men also traveled the previous year to Kosovo with the intent to carry out jihad. Officials said the men had been under FBI surveillance for the past three years.

It is not the first instance of American residents being brought to trial in the US accused of seeking to support or carry out acts of terrorism. In May, a court in Miami convicted five men with plotting to blow up the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago. Sentencing in that case is due in September. At the start of last year, Joseph Padilla, a Muslim convert, was sent to prison for 17 years after being found guilty of supporting terrorism.

If the Boyle household seemed all-American then appearances deceived, according to prosecutors. Court papers alleged that Daniel Boyd, also known as Saifullah, lived in Pakistan and Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992 joining "military-style training in terrorist training camps for the purpose of engaging in violent jihad". Prosecutors also allege that Mr Boyle was involved in fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan before he returned to the US.

Meanwhile, in 2001, Mr Boyle and his brother were arrested and convicted in Pakistan on bank robbery charges. At the time they were purportedly carrying identification that showed they belonged to a radical Afghan guerrilla group called Hezb-e-Islami or Party of Islam. Both men were sentenced to have a foot and a hand amputated for their crimes, but the decision was later overturned.

"Over the past three years, Boyd has conspired with others in this country to recruit and help young men travel overseas in order to kill," David Kris, of the US department of justice, said. Aside from the Boyd family members, the other defendants were identified as Anes Subasic, 33; Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, 22; and Ziyad Yaghi, 21. The permanent resident in the US was identified as Hysen Sherifi, 24, a native of Kosovo.

Among those expressing surprise at the arrests was Jim Stephenson, a close neigbhour of the Boyd family. "We never saw anything to give any clues that something like that could be going on in their family," Mr Stephenson said.