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By Anne Blythe, McClatchy Newspapers -
RALEIGH, N.C. — Federal investigators say one of three North Carolina men convicted recently of conspiring to commit terror abroad tried to arrange the murder of three witnesses who testified against him.
A federal agent contends that Hysen Sherifi, a native of Kosovo sentenced Jan. 13 to 45 years in prison on conspiracy charges related to the terror case, worked with his brother and a woman on a plot to have the witnesses beheaded and pictures taken of the corpses to prove the deaths.
The agent, in a document unsealed in federal court several days ago, contends that $5,000 was exchanged with a confidential informant on two days earlier this month for one of the hits.
Shkumbin Sherifi, brother of the convicted man, and a woman named Nevine Aly Elsheikh, a teacher at a Montessori school in Morrisville, have been charged in the case.
The charges have sent a second wave of shock through the Triangle Muslim community.
Just when many thought the case against what prosecutors described as a homegrown terror cell led by Daniel Patrick Boyd was coming to a close, a new twist emerged.
Elsheikh, a teacher who has been active in the local Muslim community, was charged with a crime that has surprised those who know her.
“She’s very active in community activities,” said Khalilah Sabra, director of the Triangle chapter of the Muslim American Society immigrant justice program. “It would be uncharacteristic of her. Basically everyone is in shock.”
The charges came in a similar fashion to those lodged against the eight men indicted in the Triangle terror case.
The accusations are based on an investigation using information from confidential informants.
According to a complaint filed Jan. 20 by James Langtry, a FBI special agent, a murder-for-hire scheme was hatched after Hysen Sherifi, 27, was convicted Oct. 13 of conspiring to provide material support to terrorism and conspiring to carry out attacks overseas, two counts of firearms possession and conspiring to kill federal officers or employees.
After the trial in New Bern, a confidential informant contacted the FBI with information about Sherifi, advising investigators that he had been asked to help hire someone to kill four people.
Three were witnesses who testified against Sherifi at trial, according to the complaint filed by Langtry, and the fourth was an inmate who, Sherifi told the informant, had defrauded him of money.
As a result, a search warrant was obtained Dec. 13, while Hysen Sherifi was in New Hanover County Detention Facility and a sealed letter was opened.
The letter, according to court documents, was provided to the informant by Hysen Sherifi so it could be smuggled out of jail.
Investigators opened the letter and found nothing of a criminal nature, according to the court documents. The letter was resealed and sent on its way, the agent said.
The informant agreed to work with Sherifi, according to Langtry’s complaint, to help him behead three people who testified against him at trial.
Elsheikh, according to the complaint, visited Hysen Sherifi at the New Hanover detention center Dec. 21. During that visit, which investigators monitored and recorded, Sherifi was said to have passed a note to Elsheikh that she was to deliver to another person.
The address of one of the people who testified at trial was mentioned during the jail visit.
A different confidential informant described a telephone call later that day Hysen Sherifi placed from jail to a number that investigators contend matches a cell phone used by Elsheikh.
Investigators contend Elsheikh then passed along three addresses from Hysen Sherifi to the second confidential informant, two of which belonged to witnesses who testified at the trial.
Later in December, the first confidential informant told Hysen Sherifi that “an associate” had conducted surveillance of “one of the intended victims” and a photograph was exchanged to make sure it was the right person.
Elsheikh, according to the documents, routinely visited Sherifi at the New Hanover jail, and during a visit Jan. 2, the court documents contend, she left with a photograph that she later gave to Shkumbin Sherifi, Hysen Sherifi’s brother, in Raleigh.
Investigators contend the Elsheikh met with a confidential informant in Wilmington who handed her a photograph and said, “I got the picture from Treetop, and Treetop wants to make sure it’s the right person to be killed.”
Investigators contend she replied, “OK, Treetop.”
The confidential informant continued: “Treetop needs to make sure it’s the right person.”
Elsheikh again replied “OK,” according to investigators.
Treetop, or Tree, was the name one confidential source provided to Hysen Sherifi as the person who would carry out the “hits,” investigators said.
Investigators contend that Elsheikh met again with the confidential informant, confirmed the photo was the right person, and then handed him an envelope with $750, adding that Sherifi’s brother would be coming with the rest.
On Jan. 8, according to the agent’s report, Shkumbin Sherifi met with the informant in Castle Hayne after visiting his brother in jail. During that visit, investigators contend, the brother handed over $4,250. The informant told Shkumbin Sherifi the money, in addition to the $750 already provided, was enough for one person.
Shkumbin Sherifi “later claimed not to know what was going on, but promised to speak to his brother and get a response,” Langtry wrote in the complaint.
Detention hearings for the two are scheduled for Friday at the federal courthouse in Wilmington.
Efforts to reach administrators at the Sterling Montessori Academy and Charter School in Morrisville, where Elsheikh has been a teacher, were unsuccessful.
—Hysen Sherifi: One of seven Triangle men arrested in 2009 on accusations that they plotted to gather weapons and raise money for terrorists to wage jihad overseas and at home. He was convicted of conspiracy charges in October 2011, and was sentenced Jan. 13 to 45 years in prison. A native of Kosovo who has permanent residency in the United States, Sherifi had 10 days to appeal his sentence.
—Shkumbin Sherifi: The brother of Hysen Sherifi. He is accused of providing a confidential informant more than $4,000 to help his incarcerated brother arrange the beheading of three witnesses who testified in his October trial. A detention hearing is scheduled for Friday in a Wilmington federal courthouse.
—Nevine Aly Elsheikh: A teacher and active member of the Triangle Muslim community. She is accused of transporting notes, photos and money from Hysen Sherifi to confidential informants and his brother. A detention hearing is set for Friday in a Wilmington federal courthouse.