A former student at the University of Manitoba was found guilty of providing material support to al-Qaeda and helping to build a truck bomb in Afghanistan after leaving Canada with two friends in 2007.
On Friday, a federal jury in Brooklyn convicted Muhanad al-Farekh of nine criminal charges which carry a maximum punishment of life in prison. He is due to be sentenced on Jan. 11.
Mr. al-Farekh, an American citizen, was one of Winnipeg's "Lost Boys," three students who mysteriously disappeared and travelled to Pakistan, sparking alarm among intelligence officials in the U.S. and Canada.
The fates of Ferid Imam and Maiwand Yar, the Canadian members of the trio, remain unknown, although Mr. Yar is believed to be dead. During the trial in New York, an RCMP officer testified that neither Mr. Imam nor Mr. Yar had returned to Canada since their departure on March 6, 2007.
Mr. Farekh, who was born in Houston and raised in Dubai, was once reportedly the subject of a debate at the highest levels of the U.S. government over whether he should be captured or killed in a drone strike. His return to the U.S. to face charges marks a victory for the officials who argued that American courts were the correct venue in which to weigh his crimes.
"This guy is for real and he is a bad guy," said Richard Tucker, a federal prosecutor, of Mr. al-Farekh, during the closing arguments. "He is an honest-to-goodness al-Qaeda bad guy."
The prosecution's case relied heavily on the notion that Mr. al-Farekh was part of a trio who studied together, prayed together, became radicalized together and left Canada together. The trial offered previously unknown details of the story of the three men and their time in the remote tribal areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan.
A former close friend of the trio who also attended the University of Manitoba told jurors how they had discussed with excitement a sermon by a radical cleric on the duty to wage jihad. Jurors were shown a video in which Mr. al-Farekh urged friends, including Mr. Yar, to watch an online clip featuring attacks on American soldiers in Iraq.
Prosecutors provided flight records and visa applications for the three men's journey from Canada to Pakistan, as well as correspondence between them and their worried relatives. Nine days after vanishing, Mr. Imam wrote to a family member and said that this was probably the last e-mail he would send. "I ask Allah to make us a family in Jannah [paradise] like He has made us a family in this life," he wrote.
Ahmad Yar, Mr. Yar's older brother, told jurors how he travelled to Pakistan a month after his brother disappeared. He tracked the three men to a hotel in Peshawar, a city in the country's northwest that is a gateway to its semi-autonomous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Then their trail went cold.
The following year, Mr. Imam resurfaced as a weapons trainer at a terrorist training camp, according to a witness for the prosecution. Government lawyers called Zarein Ahmedzay, a convicted American member of al-Qaeda, to the witness stand and he identified Mr. Imam as the person who trained him to use and fire weapons at a camp in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan's tribal areas.
He said that Mr. Imam – who was then using the name "Yousef" – spoke fluent English and talked about wanting to go fight just across the border in Afghanistan, preferably in the country's south rather than the north, given its difficult mountainous terrain.
In early 2009, Mr. Yar sent a nine-page handwritten letter to his family's home in Calgary explaining the virtues of the jihadist cause. The members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban are "the best people in the world," Mr. Yar wrote. He knew this firsthand, "because I have [spent] time with them." The original wording of the sentence, later crossed out, appears to be "because I am with them."
Mr. al-Farekh, meanwhile, according to prosecutors, was helping to build bombs. In January, 2009, militants launched a two-part attack on a U.S. military base in Khost, Afghanistan. The first vehicle-borne explosive detonated at an entry gate. But a second, much larger truck bomb became stuck in the crater and failed to explode.
U.S. military technicians dismantled the bomb – packed with 3,400 kilograms of explosives – and sent its components for forensic analysis. An expert at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation matched 18 fingerprints found on sticky brown packing tape wrapped around the explosives to Mr. al-Farekh.
In the ensuing years, prosecutors said, Mr. al-Farekh occupied a role in al-Qaeda's hierarchy in its external-operations unit, using the nom de guerre "Abdullah al Shami." Testifying via video from an unnamed country, a former member of al-Qaeda identified Mr. Farekh as the person he knew as Abdullah al Shami. Prosecutors also presented handwritten letters in English and Arabic from someone using that name. The letter writer says he has not left the house in six months for security reasons and tells the recipient to write back via "al-Qaeda mail" – a system of human couriers.
Mr. al-Farekh, 31, dressed each day in a dark blue blazer and a tailored shirt. He sat without expression as a prosecutor summarized the evidence connecting him to the bomb in Afghanistan and his alleged role in al-Qaeda. At the start of the closing arguments, he smiled and waved to his father and brother, who were seated in the front row.
Mahmoud al-Farekh, Mr. al-Farekh's father, threw an unexpected twist into the final stage of the trial, which lasted three weeks. After the jury began deliberations on Wednesday, he approached several jurors in an elevator and asked whether it was fair that he had not seen his son in a decade. Defence lawyers argued for a mistrial, but the judge overseeing the case denied the motion. Three alternate jurors joined the jury and following a one-day deliberation on Friday, a verdict was reached.
The elder Mr. al-Farekh, who lives in the United Arab Emirates, maintained his son's innocence in an interview with The Globe on Thursday and said that his only goal was to see his child. "I don't know what happened, wherever he was," the father said. "I want to meet him and ask."
The defence team, which did not call any witnesses, maintained that the prosecution had not met its burden of proof in the case. After the verdict, David Ruhnke, one of Mr. al-Farekh's lawyers, stated that the defence counsel believe that there were "legal errors committed at the trial and will be pursuing an appeal."