RALEIGH — 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.