2 plead guilty in beheading plot

Pair admit conspiracy in a murder-for-hire planned by a convict

ablythe@newsobserver.comNovember 2, 2012 

  • The story so far Three years ago, eight men were accused of stockpiling weapons in rural Johnston County and conspiring to commit jihad overseas. In August, Daniel Patrick Boyd, the man prosecutors described as the ringleader of a homegrown terror cell, was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The federal accusations in July 2009 were that eight men had been amassing weapons and plotting to maim, injure and kidnap people abroad and at a stateside military base. The case highlighted the government’s use of FBI informants to build a slew of terror cases across the country since the Sept. 11 attacks. Boyd, 42, pleaded guilty in February 2011 to conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and conspiring to murder persons abroad. His sons – Dylan Boyd, 24, and Zakariya Boyd, 21 – also accepted plea deals in exchange for their testimony against other suspects, including Hysen Sherifi, 27, accused in the murder-for-hire plot. Sherifi and three others fought the terror accusations at trial but were unsuccessful. In October 2011, a federal jury convicted Hysen Sherifi, Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, 25, and Ziyad Yaghi, 24. Hassan and Yaghi were found guilty of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. Yaghi was convicted also of conspiring to murder, kidnap, maim and injure persons in a foreign country. Hassan received a 15-year prison term, and Yaghi received 31 years in prison. The starkness of their punishments, some in the Triangle Muslim community have contended, contrasts with the murkiness of their crimes. The men were convicted of conspiring, not acting, in terror schemes that never played out in the United States or abroad. Sherifi was found guilty of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists; conspiring to murder, kidnap, maim and injure persons in a foreign country; two counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence; and conspiring to kill a federal officer or employee. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Boyd ‘s two sons received the lightest sentences in the case. Zakariya Boyd received a nine-year sentence for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. Dylan Boyd was sentenced to eight years in prison for aiding and abetting a conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.

— Two Triangle residents pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring with an imprisoned North Carolina man to murder and behead witnesses who testified against him in a terror case.

Shkumbin Sherifi, 22, the brother of the prisoner, who prosecutors contend orchestrated the revenge plot, and Nevine Aly Elshiekh, 47, a special education teacher, entered their pleas several days before a trial on the murder-for-hire case is set to begin.

Hysen Sherifi, a native of Kosovo, was sentenced earlier this year to 45 years in prison for conspiring to wage terror overseas and at home. He is set to stand trial Monday in federal court in Raleigh on accusations that he directed a murder-for-hire plot against the witnesses.

The charges arose in similar fashion to those lodged against Hysen Sherifi and seven other Triangle men. The eight were accused of being part of a homegrown terror cell that plotted to maim and kill people overseas and in this country.

The accusations in both cases are based on investigations using confidential informants.

Federal prosecutors contend that Hysen Sherifi worked with his brother and Elshiekh to have the witnesses against him beheaded and pictures taken of the corpses to prove the deaths.

Elshiekh, who attended the terror trial last October in federal court in New Bern, is accused of transporting notes, photos and money from Hysen Sherifi and Sherifi’s brother in order to advance the revenge plan. Federal investigators said they became aware of Hysen Sherifi’s alleged desire for revenge through a confidential informant.

The informant, who according to court documents had worked with FBI agents on other cases, said he had heard talk about an inmate looking for a “hit man” while he was in New Hanover County jail, where Sherifi also was being held.

Court documents show that agents arranged a sting operation using an individual who posed as a representative of a hit man. Prosecutors contend that Elshiekh and Shkumbin Sherifi gave $5,000 to the representative on two different days for one of the hits.

The plea hearing Thursday was presided over by Senior U.S. District Judge Earl Britt. Neither the defense team nor prosecutors provided many details of the case.

Elshiekh, who was director of the special education program at Sterling Montessori Academy and Charter School in Morrisville before her arrest, answered a series of questions from the judge during the brief hearing.

Her parents sat in the courtroom gallery with her sister. The crime to which she pleaded guilty, conspiracy to commit murder for hire, carries a possible 10-year sentence.

Shkumbin Sherifi faces the same possible sentence as part of a plea arrangement that could put him in the position of testifying against his brother.

“Obviously, this is his brother, and this is a difficult time for Shkumbin, but he is ready to step forward and take responsibility for his actions,” said James Payne, the defense lawyer from Shallotte representing the younger Sherifi.

As part of a plea arrangement, the two agreed to testify truthfully at trial in exchange for dismissal of other charges lodged against them in connection to the case.

Britt set sentencing hearings for February, leaving open the possibility that the plea agreement can be abandoned if aspects of it are not upheld.

Elshiekh and her lawyer declined to comment. She will remain free on bond pending sentencing. Shkumbin Sherifi earlier was deemed a flight risk by a federal judge and will remain in custody.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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