NEW YORK – An American citizen was sentenced to 13 years in prison on Friday for lying to the FBI about his attempts to wage violent jihad against U.S. forces by joining the Taliban or Al Qaeda.
Prosecutors in federal court in Brooklyn had sought the maximum 21 years behind bars for Abdel Hameed Shehadeh, arguing that he was following a proven formula of other would-be, homegrown terrorists who succeeded in aligning themselves with extremist groups by traveling to Pakistan's tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.
But U.S. District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano imposed the lesser term after suggesting the defendant proved too immature and inept to pull it off.
Shehadeh, 23, appeared in court with his long hair pulled back in a ponytail. He spoke only briefly, telling the judge a letter he had written asking for leniency expressed his position.
His outlook on jihad "has matured over time," he wrote. "Jihad and terrorism are not synonymous, they are conflicting in my view." The letter portrayed a failed attempt to get to Pakistan as "an impulsive move" by a misguided young man.
Shehadeh also claimed that while under investigation, he had provided the FBI valuable information on other aspiring jihadists he knew from a Brooklyn mosque. Among them were Najibullah Zazi, Zarein Ahmedzay, and Adis Medunjanin, all convicted in a failed Al Qaeda plot to attack the New York City subway system as suicide bombers in 2009.
He offered "information on persons who shortly thereafter were arrested on terrorism charges ... but I was never credited for my information," he wrote.
Prosecutors conceded in court papers that Shehadeh knew Medunjanin. But they also insisted his information didn't advance the investigation of the subway plot.
A jury convicted Shehadeh earlier this year after hearing his friends testify that he spoke of wanting to die while waging violent jihad, or holy war, abroad against the U.S. military. They said the former Staten Island resident had hoped to attend a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.
The defendant first drew the attention of the FBI in 2008 when he bought a one-way plane ticket to Islamabad. Once he arrived there, Pakistani officials wouldn't allow him into the country and he returned to New York.
Prosecutors alleged that when members of the joint FBI-NYPD terror task force interviewed him about the trip, he lied by saying he had tried to travel to Pakistan to "study Islamic law."
Four months later, Shehadeh showed up at a Times Square military recruiting station and tried to sign up, authorities said. A friend he had worshipped with later told investigators Shehadeh had hoped the Army would deploy him to Iraq, where he could desert and join insurgent forces.