NEW YORK – An Algerian man who pleaded guilty to rare state-level terrorism charges that he plotted to blow up New York City synagogues was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison.
Ahmed Ferhani was one of two men arrested in a May 2011 weapons-buying sting. Police called him a home-grown terrorist out to avenge abuse of Muslims around the world, but a grand jury declined to indict Ferhani and a co-defendant on a top-level terror conspiracy charge.
Ferhani apologized to his family in court, saying he was sorry for humiliating them and he would spend his years behind bars strengthening his mind and character.
An undercover detective wearing a wire tracked Ferhani for several months, overhearing the unemployed aspiring actor say he hated Jews and was fed up with the way Muslims were treated around the world, authorities said. Ferhani and a co-defendant were arrested in May 2011 after telling an undercover investigator about their desire to attack synagogues and taking a step toward violence, authorities said -- Ferhani bought guns, ammunition and an inert hand grenade in a sting.
Ferhani initially fought the charges, his lawyers arguing he was unstable. They also said the prosecution was based on insufficient evidence and dubious tactics -- namely entrapment. Ferhani has been institutionalized for psychiatric problems as many as 30 times -- at least five of them after his family called police, so police should have known they were dealing with a mentally troubled person, they argued.
But Ferhani pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy as a crime of terrorism, criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism, criminal sale of a firearm as a crime of terrorism and other charges. He would have faced more prison time had he been convicted at trial.
Ferhani said at his guilty plea that he repeatedly spoke of his anger toward Jews, admitted buying weapons from the undercover investigator and planning the attack.
"By targeting a synagogue, which I knew to be a Jewish house of worship, in this manner, I intended to create chaos and send a message of intimidation and coercion to the Jewish population of New York City, warning them to stop mistreating Muslims," he said at the time.
The case represented a rare instance of state prosecutors filing terror charges; such cases are usually handled by federal authorities. On Friday, District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said the sentencing was an important first.
"This defendant was convicted and sentenced under anti-terrorism laws that enabled local police and prosecutors to protect our communities from terrorist threats," he said. "Violent plots like Ahmed Ferhani's endanger all New Yorkers. Fortunately, as a result of the collaboration between state prosecutors and local police, we prevented him from carrying out his violent plan against our City."
Police have said the FBI was made aware of the investigation but decided not to get involved. The FBI has declined to comment.
But a law enforcement official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, has told The Associated Press the FBI had reservations about how the probe was conducted and concluded the allegations weren't worthy of a federal terrorism case.
The case against co-conspirator Mohamed Mamdouh is still pending.