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Published: Saturday, 5/24/2008

Defendant said visit to gun range was for fun

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mazloum Mazloum
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Wassim Mazloum was not secretive about his plans to learn how to shoot a gun - a skill that he told family and friends was learned both for fun and to defend himself if he returned to his war-torn homeland of Lebanon.

The first of the witnesses called on behalf of the defense testified yesterday in U.S. District Court in Toledo about conversations they had in 2005 with Mr. Mazloum, one of three local men charged with terrorism-related crimes.

Attorneys will call more witnesses on Mr. Mazloum's behalf when the trial resumes Tuesday.

The testimony came on the same day a second defendant, Marwan El-Hindi, revealed that he would not present a defense in the case.

Mr. El-Hindi's defense team told Judge James Carr prior to the jury being seated yesterday that they likely would not call witnesses.

The decision means that the trial is expected to conclude within four weeks.

Yesterday, the brief testimony offered by Mr. Mazloum's witnesses followed a 10-minute opening statement on his behalf. His defense team had declined to make an opening statement to jurors when the trial began April 1.

"You will hear about Wassim and his family growing up in Lebanon," Mohammed Abdrabboh told jurors. "Consider the evidence in this context. We ask you not to shut out the reality of living in the Middle East."

Mr. Mazloum, 26; Mohammad Amawi, 28, and Mr. El-Hindi, 45, are each charged with conspiring to wage a holy war using skills they learned on the Internet.

Specifically, the government accused the three of conspiring to kill or injure people in the Middle East - including U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq - as well as providing "support and resources" to terrorists.

Mr. Amawi and Mr. El-Hindi also are charged with "distributing information regarding explosives."

Yesterday, when questioning Mr. Mazloum's longtime friends Hussein Smidi and Anwar Rabah, defense attorneys asked if they were aware of Mr. Mazloum's visits to a local indoor shooting range.

Both men, as well as Mr. Mazloum's aunt Nailam Elkhechen, said Mr. Mazloum told them that he had been target-shooting with a man that he met at the local mosque.

The government's cooperating witness, Darren Griffin, testified at the start of the trial that he went to the indoor range at Cleland's Outdoor World on Airport Highway with both Mr. Mazloum and Mr. Amawi.

Mr. Griffin testified the men went with the intentions of training for "violent jihad" overseas.

But Mrs. Elkhechen said her nephew told her a different story.

"He said, 'For self-defense if I ever go back home [to Lebanon] and there is a crisis,' because we have a history of civil war," she testified.

Although the witnesses testified they heard Mr. Mazloum say that the practice was only for fun and for self-defense in Lebanon, they each admitted when questioned by federal prosecutors that Mr. Mazloum never told them he sought out other types of training.

They admitted they were never told about Mr. Mazloum's desire for instruction on how to make a bomb, on how to conduct an ambush, or in U.S. and Israeli military tactics.

The testimony was the first that the 15 members of the jury heard from the defense. The jury pool shrunk by one yesterday when a juror called in sick for a second day and so was excused. That means that a jury of eight men and seven women - including three alternates - will decide the case.

Prior to the first of Mr. Mazloum's witnesses taking the stand yesterday, the government presented the last of its evidence and, after 23 days and 16 witnesses, rested its case.

The government offered evidence yesterday that was stipulated by both the government and the defense.

Included was the authenticity of numerous photographs and documents used during the trial, including pictures of the defendants, the defendants' homes, items seized from their homes, and telephone and bank records.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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