NEW YORK (Reuters) - The man accused of detonating a bomb in a New York City subway passageway on behalf of Islamic State last December was a troubled individual who committed a serious crime but not a terrorist, his lawyer told jurors in a Manhattan federal courtroom on Tuesday.
In her opening statement on the first day of Akayed Ullah’s trial, Julia Gatto readily told jurors that they should find her client guilty of setting off the bomb, which did not kill anyone. However, she said they should acquit him of the charge that he supported Islamic State, which is designated a terrorist organisation by U.S. authorities.
“This case is not about a foreign terrorist organisation planting an operative in our midst,” Gatto said. “What this case is about is a deeply troubled, isolated young man who wanted to take his own life.”
Ullah, a 28-year-old immigrant from Bangladesh, was arrested last December after detonating a homemade bomb in a pedestrian tunnel connecting two subway lines and a bus terminal in midtown Manhattan. He has been charged with six criminal counts, which include using a weapon of mass destruction and providing material support to Islamic State.
Gatto’s statement came after Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Donaleski laid out the prosecutors’ case, telling the jury that Ullah’s act was inspired by Islamic State propaganda he found online.
Donaleski said Ullah built a bomb out of a pipe taken from a construction site where he worked as an electrician, using match heads and sugar as explosives and screws as shrapnel.
“The defendant was inspired by ISIS,” Donaleski said, using the Islamic State acronym. She said a search of Ullah’s computer revealed that he had viewed propaganda urging supporters unable to travel to join Islamic State to carry out “lone wolf” attacks wherever they live.
Donaleski told the jury that, while on his way to carry out the attack, Ullah posted on Facebook: “Trump you failed to protect your nation,” followed by an Arabic message that she said expressed support of Islamic State.
Gatto countered that the prosecutors “give far too much credit to an organisation that deserves none.”
“Tooling around on the internet does not make you an ISIS member,” she said. “He does not know a single ISIS member and not a single ISIS member knows him.”
Ullah, Gatto said, was not thinking rationally and wanted only to kill himself in a way that would “send a message.”
Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Tom Brown