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Teacher must remain in custody over alleged beheading plot

By Vivian Kuo, CNN
February 6, 2012 -- Updated 2002 GMT (0402 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nevine Aly Elshiekh is held in alleged plot to behead witnesses against would-be terrorist
  • She is on leave from position at Montessori school in North Carolina
  • Friend says charges don't reflect who she is

(CNN) -- A federal judge on Friday ordered a North Carolina teacher to remain in custody until her trial over an alleged plot to behead witnesses who testified against a would-be terrorist.

Nevine Aly Elshiekh was arrested with Shkumbin Sherifi on January 22. Just nine days earlier, the man they were allegedly in collusion with -- Hysen Sherifi, who is Shkumbin Sherifi's brother -- was sentenced to 45 years in prison for being part of what prosecutors called a "violent jihad" that had conspired to kill people overseas and kill a federal officer.

A criminal complaint alleges that Elshiekh and the Sherifi brothers tried to pull off a plan to "murder and behead" three people who testified against Hysen Sherifi at his trial last year.

Facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder, Elshiekh is on leave as director of special education at the Sterling Montessori Academy in Morrisville, North Carolina, a Raleigh-Durham suburb.

The man listed in court documents as her lawyer, Charles Swift, did not immediately respond to messages Friday for comment.

A longtime friend of Elshiekh's said the charges don't reflect who she is.

"It's hard for me to imagine that she could be involved with anything crazy or shady. She's not the type of person to get involved in stupid stuff," Sahar El Shafie said.

"Anyone who knows the woman would tell you no way. It's so out of character for someone who is a special education teacher."

Prosecutors said Hysen Sherifi -- a native of Kosovo who is a U.S. legal permanent resident in North Carolina -- and as many as eight others were part of a homegrown terrorism ring between 2006 and 2009.

In Hysen Sherifi's case, officials say that involved taking part in paramilitary training and conspiring to attack U.S. military service members and their families at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia. He was arrested in 2009 and convicted in October of conspiring to kill a federal officer or employee, plotting to kill people overseas, conspiring to provide material support for terrorism and two firearms charges.

According to the 10-page federal complaint, confidential informants told the FBI that Hysen Sherifi expressed a desire to hire someone to murder three witnesses who testified against him during his federal trial. He also targeted an inmate who he believed had "defrauded" him out of money concerning his federal charges, documents state.

"During conversations ... he wants photographs taken, and provided (to) him, of the dead bodies and severed heads," an FBI special agent in charge noted after reviewing recordings between Hysen Sherifi and an informant. "Sherifi, in sum and substance, explained he wants the witnesses to completely disappear so they cannot testify against him, and others, at any future trials."

The complaint said that an informant was told to use the photos depicting the decapitated bodies to "convince other potential witnesses not to testify against him, or his co-conspirators, at future proceedings."

Elshiekh visited Hysen Sherifi in a North Carolina jail in December, at which point Sherifi gave her a message to pass on to someone else, the criminal complaint states. In subsequent months, she had repeated contacts with the jailed man, his brother Shkumbin Sherifi and the FBI's informants.

Then, in January, Elshiekh allegedly gave an informant $750 as initial payment to kill one of the intended victims. Shkumbin Sherifi gave the same informant the other $4,250 of the agreed-upon fee, the complaint states.

A Raleigh, North Carolina-based group called Our Ummah, One Body is urging people not to make assumptions before hearing all sides of the case.

"Allegations are not facts," the group said on its website. "Facts are not known yet. As a community, we have known good from both. We remind the Muslim and non-Muslim community members that, according to the law, both are presumed innocent until proven otherwise."

CNN's Yasmin Amer contributed to this report.

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