Teacher at College Park school sentenced for aiding terrorists

Fate of former Al-Huda instructor rattles school

Thursday, Aug. 31, 2006

Days after a former teacher at College Park’s Al-Huda school was sentenced for providing material support to a Pakistani terrorist group, one-time colleagues said the case was just one of many unfairly targeting Muslims throughout the world.

Ali Asad Chandia, 29, a resident of College Park who taught at Al-Huda for four years, was sentenced Friday for aiding Lashkar-e-Taiba, an anti-Indian government organization.

Chandia was charged with assisting Lashkar-e-Taiba member Mohammed Ajmal Khan, who is serving a 9-year prison sentence in Britain for serving as a military procurement official for the group. Prosecutors sought a sentence of 30 years to life for Chandia, but U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton gave the Pakistani-born teacher 15 years.

Minhaj Hason, a spokesperson for Dar-Us-Salaam, the umbrella organization for Al-Huda, said that while he was disappointed by the outcome, he was not surprised.

‘‘From our perspective as a community ... we’re basically feeling besieged by overzealous prosecution,” Hason said, adding Chandia was ‘‘one of our best teachers” in the boys section of the Muslim school. ‘‘This is just one in a huge slew of cases like this. We feel the juries are making their decisions based on paranoia.”

Hason, one of more than a dozen family and friends present at the Aug. 25 sentencing, said Chandia has been missed at Al-Huda since FBI agents searched Chandia’s house in May 2003, finding material such as audio tapes and a CD-ROM.

The findings ‘‘manifested his commitment to commit violent jihad,” according to a statement released by US Attorney Chuck Rosenberg. Chandia was also convicted of providing ‘‘safe harbor” for Khan when he visited the United States in 2002 and 2003. Chandia allowed Khan to use his home computer to buy unmanned aerial vehicles, night-vision equipment, wireless video cameras and $17,000 of Kevlar anti-ballistic material, prosecutors said.

‘‘[Chandia] was very well respected by his peers and students’ parents, and that’s why you saw a lot of support in the courtroom,” Hason said.

Hason said he was sad to know Chandia, who has a 2-year-old son and a 6-year-old stepdaughter, would miss the rest of his children’s school years.

‘‘I think everyone was relieved he didn’t get 30 years to life, but a year away from your family is a year away from your family. [Chandia] has a very young child he won’t see grow up.”

Citing Chandia’s counseling efforts for troubled local youths, Hason said the College Park community lost a dedicated public servant for the next 15 years.

‘‘He was always a contributing member to the general public,” he said.

Chandia moved to Maryland in 1994, attending Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg and graduating from the University of Maryland University College in 1999, according to the Ali Asad Support Committee, which established a Web site for Chandia’s defense. Before working at Al-Huda, Chandia taught Arabic at Al-Salit Institute in College Park.

In a statement released shortly after the sentencing, Rosenberg said, ‘‘Terrorist organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba rely on a network of individuals to carry out their deadly operations. Ali Asad Chandia was a member of that network for Lashkar-e-Taiba, and he will now spend a very long period of time in prison for providing material support in furtherance of its violent agenda.”

E-mail Dennis Carter at dcarter@gazette.net.