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Northern Virginia Koran tutor convicted of receiving child pornography

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/14/2021 Rachel Weiner

A Northern Virginia Koran tutor, who was in legal limbo in the United States for years after being suspected of involvement in a terrorist attack in Jordan, was found guilty this week of transporting and receiving child pornography.

At trial in federal court in Alexandria, Majed Hajbeh had argued that he did not realize there was illegal material in the vast array of images on his devices. He was in 1,600 “random, weird” WhatsApp groups, defense attorney Muhammad Elsayed said in his closing argument, and often “indiscriminately” forwarded large batches of links to himself and to others. Much of it was spam.

“He wasn’t careful,” Elsayed told jurors. “He didn’t know that there was child pornography contained in there.”

There was no evidence, he noted, that Hajbeh opened the files or had searched for child pornography. Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Schlessinger said in his closing that it was “not plausible” that Hajbeh did not recognize the videos for what they were.

“Of course he watches them,” Schlessinger told the jury.

Authorities first investigated Hajbeh nearly two decades ago, accusing him of lying about his marital status when he immigrated to the United States from Jordan in 1992. According to court records, authorities were motivated by the discovery that Jordanian authorities had convicted him in absentia for involvement in a 1998 series of bombings. Should he return to Jordan, he faces a life sentence. Hajbeh denied involvement in those attacks, which caused property damage but no casualties; the convictions of other defendants were overturned after another man confessed. After four years in immigration custody, Hajbeh was released.

Before his arrest in the child pornography case, Hajbeh, of Woodbridge, ran a company called Hajbeh Tutoring. He tutored children on the Koran and Arabic at their homes and at Northern Virginia mosques, according to the indictment.

When his home was raided last December, Hajbeh told FBI agents he had sent and received child pornography, according to court records. But his attorneys say he made those statements while effectively in custody, with no Arabic interpreter or access to his attorney.

Prosecutors did not seek to use the FBI interview at trial.

The child pornography was initially found through a search of his Google Drive account under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according to court records, which allows the government greater power to investigate those deemed foreign agents.

“Regardless of whatever suspicions the Government may have had, or may currently have, of Mr. Hajbeh, and for which the Government has expended significant resources to surveil and investigate him, he has only been indicted on charges related to child pornography, not charges implicating national security or foreign intelligence gathering,” his attorneys wrote in an unsuccessful bid to keep the images out of court. “This is despite the significant resources and time the Government has dedicated to surveilling and investigating Mr. Hajbeh.”

Federal prosecutors said Hajbeh is set to be sentenced in February and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.

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