Terror suspect from Cary must stay in federal prison two more years, judge rules

Basit Javed Sheikh
Basit Javed Sheikh

Basit Javed Sheikh has spent five years in prison on charges he offered support to Al Qaeda, planning help with “logistics, media (and) fight too, God willing.”

Three years ago, the Cary man was diagnosed with schizophrenia after a rambling outburst in federal court in Raleigh, during which he insisted the United States pay “100 camels” for its war deaths in the Middle East.

On Thursday, his attorneys argued that Sheikh should be released after 70 months in detention as part of the guilty plea he entered in August. Sheikh’s religious extremism parallels his worsening mental illness, said federal public defender Joseph Craven, and medication and mental health treatment will keep him docile.

“When the government is implying he has this hatred for America, he is here whispering, ‘No, I don’t,’ ” Craven said.

U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle denied this request, sentencing Sheikh to the full 84 months outlined in his plea agreement, meaning Sheikh will spend roughly two more years in detention.

Federal prosecutors first charged Sheikh in 2013, when he was 34. A native of Pakistan, he had been living for years in the United States as a legal resident.

Federal prosecutors accused him of expressing support for Jahbat al-Nusrah, an alias for al-Qaida, in Facebook posts in 2013.

On Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Kellhofer described months of online communication with covert FBI agents and thousands of pages of posts, including pictures of the White House on fire. He spoke of his desire to be a “green bird,” which court records describe as a reference to martyrdom.

“This is not a raving lunatic,” Kellhofer said. “He had a larger picture in mind.”

In January 2015, a judge ordered Sheikh to be involuntarily committed in a hospital for 120 days for psychiatric treatment. The judge told Sheikh he faced the possibility of the involuntary administration of psychiatric drugs so that he might better understand the seriousness of the charges against him.

In a hearing before Boyle that month, Sheikh talked about cluster bombs, President Obama and his desire to leave the country permanently. Boyle told him, “If you’re trying to make a record that you’re not competent, you’re doing an excellent job.”

On Thursday, Craven said Sheikh described hearing electronic buzzing in his ears a year before his arrest, and he also believed people were coming to get him in his room and yard well before his legal troubles.

Craven stressed that Sheikh had been a model prisoner while medicated, and he has agreed to long-term treatment.

“He needs to go home,” Craven said.

Boyle said Sheikh has suffered from profound mental illness. But the judge said Sheikh’s speech had been threatening and too serious to cut short the time laid out in his plea.

As a green-card holder, Sheikh’s future in the United States will be up to another agency, Boyld said.

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Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.

Thomasi McDonald is a veteran journalist who writes about crime and public safety issues.