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Federal appeals court upholds terrorism conviction of Florida doctor

A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Friday voted 2-1 to uphold the conviction [opinion, PDF] of a Florida doctor who offered to treat injured al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] fighters so they could return to fighting Americans in Iraq. Petitioner Dr. Rafik Sabir argued that 18 USC § 2339B [text], the statute under which he was convicted of attempting to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization, was "unconstitutionally vague and overbroad" and that the evidence presented a trial was insufficient to support his conviction. Sabir specifically challenged the lower court's finding that providing medical treatment was the equivalent of providing "material support" to a terrorist organization. He argued that he had an ethical duty as a physician to offer medical treatment to those in need. The court rejected Sabir's arguments stating that the record did not support the characterization of Sabir's activities as merely meeting an ethical obligation. The court held:

Sabir was not prosecuted for performing routine duties as a hospital emergency room physician, treating admitted persons who coincidentally happened to be al Qaeda members. Sabir was prosecuted for offering to work for al Qaeda as its on-call doctor, available to treat wounded mujahideen who could not be brought to a hospital precisely because they would likely have been arrested for terrorist activities.
The court concluded that Sabir's actions went beyond honoring his Hippocratic oath, to swearing an allegiance to al Qaeda as "one of the soldiers of Islam." The court also rejected arguments that he was denied a fair trial and that district court abused their discretion in addressing alleged juror misconduct.

Sabir, a US citizen, was convicted [JURIST report] on the terrorism-related charges by a federal court in 2007. He was arrested and charged [JURIST report] in May 2005 following several meetings with an undercover FBI agent posing as an al Qaeda recruiter, during which Sabir pledged his loyalty to al Qaeda and agreed to provide medical assistance to wounded terrorists in Saudi Arabia. A second defendant, Tariq Shah, who was also caught in the FBI sting pleaded guilty in 2007 to providing material support to al Qaeda. Shah, who had agreed to teach hand-to-hand combat to al Qaeda operatives, is serving a 15-year sentence. Sabir is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence.

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