HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas man accused of trying to sneak out of the country with restricted U.S. military documents, money and equipment in order to join al-Qaida told a judge Monday that he wanted to leave because he disagrees with American foreign policy and that he never intended to hurt anyone.
Barry Walter Bujol Jr. told the court during opening statements at his trial that he wanted to leave to become a better Muslim and that he never meant to join or support a terrorist group.
"My desire to leave the United States was not to commit acts of terrorism ... but simply to expess my discontent and displeasure with my tax dollars and what I was doing as a citizen with foreign policy objectives I didn't agree with," said Bujol, who addressed the court from a wheelchair because of a leg infection.
Federal prosecutor Garrett Heenan painted a very different portrait of the 30-year-old defendant, telling U.S. District Judge David Hittner that Bujol exchanged emails with the U.S.-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki.
"Bujol had emailed al-Awlaki seeking guidance regarding jihad. Al-Awlaki responded by emailing a terrorist manifesto entitled, '42 ways of supporting jihad,'" Heenan said.
Al-Awlaki, who had ties to al-Qaida and who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in September in Yemen, is alleged to have exchanged emails with Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who has pleaded not guilty to killing 13 people in the November 2009 Fort Hood shootings.
Bujol, who is an American citizen, dismissed his court-appointed attorneys and was representing himself at his trial, which was being heard by a judge instead of a jury, at his request. One of his former attorneys, Edward Mallett, was on hand to answer legal questions, should Bujol have any.
If convicted of the charges — attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and aggravated identity theft — Bujol could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
Bujol was arrested in May 2010 after using fake identification to sneak into a Houston port and board a ship bound for the Middle East, authorities said.
According to court documents, Bujol used at least 14 email addresses to hide his activities from authorities and he advocated attacking U.S. facilities where military weapons were manufactured.
His arrest came after a two-year investigation by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, which used an undercover informant who befriended him and posed as a recruiter for al-Qaida for the Arabian peninsula.
Heenan said Bujol "offered praise to God" when he learned the informant was an al-Qaida recruiter.
The informant had given Bujol a bag containing GPS receivers, two nonpublic restricted-access Army manuals and other items he had allegedly agreed to courier to al-Qaida operatives in the Middle East.
Bujol said that he "never praised al-Qaida operations," that it was the informant who suggested he join the terrorist group and that the items he is accused of trying to take overseas were not bought by him and he was only "essentially a custodian for items (the informant) was going to send to his friend."
Authorities say Bujol made three unsuccessful attempts during February and March 2009 to travel to Yemen or the Middle East. On two of these attempts, he was arrested for either a traffic warrant or driving with a suspended license. In the other attempt, he tried to go through Canada but was denied admission into the country.
Bujol, who lives in Hempstead, about 50 miles northwest of Houston, was set to plead guilty in the case in October 2010, but he changed his mind.