BOSTON >> A Massachusetts man who authorities say fell under the influence of the Islamic State group was convicted today of plotting to behead a conservative American blogger for organizing a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest.
Jurors found David Wright guilty of all charges, including conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries.
The 28-year-old faces up to life in prison.
Prosecutors said Wright, his uncle and a third man conspired to kill blogger Pamela Geller because they were upset she organized Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas in 2015. During the contest, two other men opened fire outside and wounded a security guard before they were killed in a shootout with law enforcement assigned to guard the event.
Wright’s uncle, Ussamah Rahim, told Wright on a recorded phone call later that month that he couldn’t wait to attack Geller and decided instead to go after “those boys in blue,” referring to police. Wright told his uncle that was “beautiful” and encouraged him to delete all the data from his computer before carrying out his attack.
Hours later, Rahim was shot and killed by authorities after he lunged at them with a knife when they approached him in Boston. The attack on Geller, who has spearheaded scores of events across the nation to decry Islamic extremism, was never carried out. She didn’t testify at the trial.
Wright cried on the stand when he spoke of his uncle, insisting that he didn’t think Rahim was serious about the attack. Wright, who was more than 500 pounds (227 kilograms) and spent much of his time playing video games in 2015, testified that he used Islamic State group propaganda to get attention but was just playing a role and never wanted to commit violence.
“I didn’t want my uncle to get hurt. I didn’t want law enforcement to get hurt,” Wright said. “I lost someone who was very close to me because I was so deluded and self-centered that I couldn’t see beyond my own need for attention.”
Prosecutors said Wright was the leader of the conspiracy and recruited his uncle and others to help him wage war on the U.S. Wright’s uncle received directions about the plan to kill Geller from Junaid Hussain, an Islamic State group member and hacker who was later killed in an airstrike in Syria, prosecutors said.
Wright conducted online research for guns, swords and tranquilizers that put people to sleep instantly. He created a Twitter page seeking recruits for their “martyrdom operation cell,” collected a trove of horrific Islamic State group documents and videos and created a manifesto warning that America’s “days are numbered,” prosecutors said. Wright’s uncle bought three large knives — one for each of them — for their attack on Geller, authorities say.
Wright “was committed to ISIS, and knew exactly what he was doing,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann told jurors, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
The third man accused in the plot, Nicholas Rovinski, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy charges and faces 15 to 22 years in prison. Rovinski, of Warwick, Rhode Island, testified against Wright, telling jurors that Wright said Geller “deserved to be beheaded” because she insulted Mohammad.