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Convicted US terrorist in NC beheading plot trial

, The Associated Press

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina man already sentenced to 45 years in prison for his role in a homegrown terrorist plot raised little early resistance in court proceedings Monday at the start of a trial on charges he plotted to have government witnesses in his earlier trial beheaded.

Hysen Sherifi, 28, is acting as his own attorney and waved off early opportunities to resist the government's case against him. His decision not to contest the government's pre-trial motions means prosecutors will be allowed to present the jury with recordings of Sherifi that omit sections that could help the defendant's case, U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt said.

Britt also told Sherifi he must question witnesses in the courtroom like other attorneys and would be barred from addressing jurors except at the beginning and conclusion of testimony. Jury selection in the case was expected to begin later Monday.

In nine criminal counts, Sherifi is accused of acting with his brother Shkumbin Sherifi, 22 and former special education teacher Nevine Aly Elshiekh, 47, of Raleigh to hire a hit man to behead three witnesses from Hysen Sherifi's terrorism trial. He was one of six Raleigh Muslims convicted last year of plotting to attack the Marine base in Quantico, Va., and overseas targets.

The case hinged largely on surveillance tapes made by confidential informants paid by the FBI, with no direct evidence any of the men had actually agreed to kill anyone.

Shkumbin Sherifi and Elshiekh faced the same nine counts as Hysen Sherifi, but on Thursday they pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit murder for hire. Each faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines when they are sentenced in February. Prosecutors agreed to drop the eight other counts facing each in exchange for their testimony during Hysen Sherifi's trial.

Authorities say Hysen Sherifi was already in custody in the terror case when he asked another inmate to help him hire a hit man and then recruited his brother and Elshiekh to deliver a $5,000 down payment for the first murder.

But the fellow inmate contacted the FBI, allowing federal agents to set up a sting operation that included a confidential informant posing as the representative of a shadowy assassin named Treetop. That informant took the money and later provided faked pictures appearing to show the targeted witness beheaded and lying in a shallow grave.

Shkumbin Sherifi and Elshiekh were both videotaped meeting with the made-up hit man's helper. Federal agents say the school teacher hocked her gold jewelry to help finance the beheading.

The Sherifi family fled Kosovo in 1999 during a brutal sectarian war between Serbs and ethnic Albanians. Under questioning from Britt on Monday, Hysen Sherifi said he is a citizen of Kosovo.

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