An FBI informant testified this week about his correspondence with a Massachusetts man named David Wright, who planned to behead conservative blogger Pamela Geller after she organized a Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas.
The informant, who used the alias Yusef Ali, testified on Tuesday in Boston federal court that he and Wright had communicated online for about 18 months, during which he became more radicalized over time, according to Fox News.
Prosecutors say Wright, 28, his uncle, and another man agreed to kill Geller in 2015. They also say Wright wanted to conduct other attacks in the U.S. and encouraged his uncle to kill police officers.
His defense attorney argued the week prior that Wright became consumed by Islamic State (ISIS) propaganda because he was “overweight, lonely and desperate for an escape from his bleak life” and wanted to pretend he was someone else, according to the Associated Press.
His attorney, Jessica Hedges, said at the time he weighed more than 500 pounds, lived with his mother, and had no career. She argued that Wright was “never really interested” in helping ISIS or committing violence.
She argued he was a “complete idiot” but not guilty.
“In 2015, David felt very, very fat, very failed, and was living in a world of fantastical ideas,” she told jurors at Boston’s federal courthouse. “He hid behind screens, looking for an escape, looking for a distraction from who he really was”:
The Odd Trial of the Man Accused of Plotting to Behead Pamela Geller for ISIS – VICE en_us: https://t.co/BseFqOB703
— iDEFY (@imax111) September 21, 2017
Wright is charged with obstruction of justice, conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, and conspiring to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries. He faces up to life in prison.
Prosecutors said Wright recruited his uncle, Ussamah Rahim of Boston, and another man, Nicholas Rovinski of Warwick, Rhode Island, to help him commit attacks.
They agreed to kill Geller in the summer of 2015 after a cartoon contest she organized in suburban Dallas, Texas, prosecutors said. In May, Wright met with his uncle and Rovinski for more than two hours on a secluded Rhode Island beach and discussed plans to kill Geller, the indictment said.
Days later, Rahim told Wright he could not wait and decided to go after police officers instead, an assistant U.S. attorney told jurors. Wright encouraged his uncle to do so and die as a “martyr.” He also told his uncle to destroy his cell phone and wipe all the data from his computer.
Hours later, officers with the Joint Terrorism Task Force approached Rahim in a Boston parking lot on June 2, 2015. Rahim was fatally shot when he pulled out a knife and moved toward them, prosecutors said.
Wright was arrested on June 2, 2015.
Authorities say Rahim received instructions about the plot to kill Geller from Junaid Hussain, an ISIS member and hacker who was later killed in an airstrike in Syria. Rahim had then passed along Hussain’s instructions to Wright, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors argued that Wright had said the Boston bombing was “not sufficient” and that he was ready to act.
But his attorney, Hedges, argued that Wright had never injured anyone and that his words were not enough to convict him.
“Freedom of speech matters in the United States,” she argued. “We can be incredibly angry at what someone reads, what someone says and what someone talks about and not convict them as a criminal for it.”
Rovinski already pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy charges and faces a sentence of between 15 and 22 years. He testified last week that during their meeting on the beach, Wright said Geller deserved to be beheaded because she insulted Muhammad.
He testified that Wright had said there were about 70 “sympathizer type cells” in the U.S.:
Rovinski says David Wright, his former co-conspirator on trial, said there were 70 ISIS sympathizer type cells in the US
— Parker Gavigan (@NBC10_Parker) September 22, 2017