In U.S. Court, a Familiar Argument Over Intentions in Joining a Terrorist Group

The narrative heard in federal court in Manhattan on Wednesday was an increasingly common one: a defendant from a faraway land claimed he was not an anti-American terrorist but rather someone who had become involved in his own country’s wars. 
This time, the defendant was Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed, a 38-year-old Eritrean. His lawyers have said that his earliest memories were of explosions and rebels, of running, hiding and being evacuated from his home in the 1970s during the bloody Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict.
More than three decades later, Mr. Ahmed sought to join the fight against Ethiopia by seeking military training from Al Shabab, a Somali group with ties to Al Qaeda that the United States had designated a foreign terrorist organization. He was arrested in Nigeria in November 2009 and brought to Manhattan in 2010 to face terrorism charges.
The case was widely watched as a potential test of the Obama administration’s strategy of interrogating terrorism suspects for both intelligence and law enforcement purposes. Mr. Ahmed pleaded guilty in June in Federal District Court to conspiring to provide material support to Al Shabab and to receive military-type training from it.
In court, a defense lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, told the judge that her client held no animosity toward the United States. In court papers filed earlier, his lawyers quoted comments by Mr. Ahmed: He “advised that he had friends in the United States and hoped to visit the country some day in the future. He remarked that people in the United States are ‘funny’ and ‘like life.’ ”
Ms. Shroff had asked that her client receive a five-year term, half the maximum sentence that prosecutors were seeking. Ms. Shroff said that her client’s support for Al Shabab had “nothing to do with the United States.”
Mr. Ahmed, addressing the judge, acknowledged that helping Al Shabab had been “a big mistake.” He added, “I don’t blame anyone but myself,” and he asked for a chance to change his life.
But a prosecutor, Benjamin Naftalis, said that Mr. Ahmed’s views toward Americans were irrelevant, adding that Mr. Ahmed had gone on a “jihad quest, and he wasn’t going to stop until he had accomplished that.”
The government said in court papers that Mr. Ahmed had admitted, under questioning by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that he had received bomb-making instructions from a Shabab explosives expert, had donated money to the group and had bought an AK-47 assault rifle and two grenades to be used in fighting on its behalf.
The judge, P. Kevin Castel, imposed a sentence of nine years and three months. Mr. Ahmed will also be deported when he completes the sentence.
The judge cited Mr. Ahmed’s own statements in his guilty plea: that he had given money to Al Shabab while knowing that the United States considered it to be a terrorist organization.
Ms. Shroff and Mr. Naftalis debated whether a stiffer sentence for Mr. Ahmed would serve to deter future terrorists. “There is no deterring someone if they are a fanatic, and there is no deterring someone if they are engaged in a fight in their own nation,” Ms. Shroff said.
Mr. Naftalis responded that there were people like Mr. Ahmed around the world, and that they had to learn that there were “consequences to committing those crimes, to aligning themselves with a terrorist group, the only purpose of which is to kill innocents.”
Judge Castel made it clear that he agreed. He said a “would-be terrorist” who might be intent on carrying out actions that would harm himself and others would not necessarily be indifferent to serving a long sentence in an American prison. He added: “There is little glory to him in that sort of an outcome.” 


Popular posts from this blog

How a cyber attack hampered Hong Kong protesters

‘Not Hospital, Al-Shifa is Hamas Hideout & HQ in Gaza’: Israel Releases ‘Terrorists’ Confessions’ | Exclusive

Former FARC guerrilla, Colombian cop pose naked together to promote peace deal