At a courtroom of the Seoul Central District Court at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, a trial began for a slender and bearded foreigner who would resemble a Middle Eastern leader if he wore a turban.
Salim Mohammed? Where did you live in Pakistan? asked senior judge Jeong Seon-jae.
When his name was called, the nervous 39-year-old defendant stood up though not required to do so. Through an interpreter, Salim said, I was a forklift driver in Swat, Pakistan.
Swat, located in northwestern Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, is known as the "Switzerland of Pakistan" due to its scenic beauty. The terrorist group Taliban, however, has controlled the region since 2008.
Salim left his wife and four children to slip into Korea through the port of Gunsan in North Jeolla Province, boarding a grain carrier in February last year. Before his arrest early last month, he illegally worked at a cement block plant in Changnyeong County, South Gyeongsang Province.
Police said they grew suspicious of his whereabouts in Korea. Though he said he came to earn money, the remittances he sent home were small.
He attended an Islamic center in Daegu an hour away from his residence to attend service every weekend. The center is known to have a Muslim cleric who allegedly has ties with the Taliban.
Salim broke down under interrogation and confessed to getting 18 days of training from the Taliban in Pakistan. He denied, however, that he was wanted in Pakistan for ties with the Taliban though admitting to entering Korea illegally.
When a prosecutor asked him, Did you enter Korea illegally to avoid being caught when the Pakistani government began cracking down on the Taliban in Swat," Salim said, The Taliban threatened to kill my father if one of my relatives didnt join the group, so my father put my name on the Taliban list.
If I am a Taliban member, I wouldnt want to return home because Ill be punished. Please deliver a verdict quickly so that I can return home, he said.
When making his final statement to the court, he shed tears in saying, I committed the crime of slipping into the country to feed my four children aged two to nine, so I will accept my punishment.
Those attending the trial showed mixed reactions, with some sympathetic while others viewing his tears as a performance.
Prosecutors demanded a prison sentence of 2.5 years for Salim.