LONDON – A British judge sentenced a Muslim scholar to 13 years in prison Friday after he admitted conspiring with shoe-bomber Richard Reid (search) to blow up a trans-Atlantic jetliner in 2001.
Judge Adrian Fulford said he believed that Saajid Badat (search) backed out of an alleged plot with Reid, who was subdued by passengers when he attempted to detonate a bomb in his shoe aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami on Dec. 22, 2001, with 197 people on board.
Prosecutors said Badat, 25, of Gloucester, England, conspired to detonate a bomb in a shoe on a different flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to the United States in a plan coordinated with Reid. But he had second thoughts and never bought a ticket for the flight.
The U.S. destination of that flight was not specified in court.
Badat pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge two months ago. Had he been convicted at trial without pleading guilty, the judge said Friday he would have recommended a sentence of at least 50 years.
But Badat's apparent remorse was a factor in the more lenient sentence, Fulford said.
"Turning away from crime in circumstances such as these constitutes a powerful mitigating factor," the judge said. "It can take considerable courage to plead guilty to offenses of this kind."
Fulford said Badat had been part of a plot to commit a "wicked and inhuman crime" that would have killed hundreds of people.
"Sitting in the civilized and muted surroundings of the Old Bailey (courthouse), it is easy to forget exactly what you planned," he told Badat.
But the judge said he believed Badat had a genuine change of heart. He said he balanced the need for strong deterrents in terrorism cases with Badat's evident remorse.
Fulford said he hoped the sentence would send a message to others considering terrorism that a decision to turn away from violence would benefit them in court.
Badat's guilty plea in February was the first major conviction for a terrorist plot in Britain since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
British convicts typically are eligible for parole after serving two-thirds of their sentence, so Badat could be released in a little more than eight years.
In letters to his parents written before the bomb plot and read in court Friday, Badat said he was disillusioned with Britain.
"I have a sincere desire to sell my soul to Allah in return for paradise," he said in a letter prosecutors said was found along with explosives at his home.
According to prosecutors, Badat was trained in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. While in Afghanistan, he was given an explosive device designed to evade airport security and destroy an aircraft in flight.
Badat returned to Britain on Dec. 10, 2001, with the device. The detonating cords on Reid's device matched those on Badat's bomb, prosecutors said.
Prosecutor Richard Horwell said Badat booked a ticket to fly from Manchester, England, to Amsterdam, Netherlands, in preparation for a trans-Atlantic flight to the United States that he planned to blow up.
"But he did not take that flight. We accept by then he had withdrawn from the conspiracy, which by then he had been party to for an appreciable period of time," Horwell said.
He said Badat sent an e-mail to co-conspirators on Dec. 14, 2001, indicating he might withdraw from the plot.
Horwell said Badat confessed as soon as he was apprehended in November 2003, telling officers as they drove to the police station: "I was asked to do a shoe-bombing like Richard Reid."
He told the police about a green suitcase in his bedroom in Gloucester which contained a fuse and detonator, and another suitcase containing plastic explosives inside a sock.
"An Arab gave me these things in Afghanistan," he reportedly told officers, adding he did not know how to dispose of the items.
Reid was arrested in Boston after trying to detonate his bomb aboard the Paris-Miami flight, which was diverted to Boston. He was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to the charges.
In October, a U.S. grand jury in Boston charged Badat with attempted murder, trying to destroy an aircraft and other counts related to the alleged conspiracy. Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) said then the United States had "a keen interest" in seeking Badat's eventual extradition to stand trial.