NEW YORK – A mentally ill British man pleaded guilty Monday to U.S. charges he plotted to set up an Al Qaeda training camp on a ranch in a remote part of Oregon that was likened to Afghanistan.
Haroon Aswat admitted he traveled to Bly, Oregon, in 1999 at the direction of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, a double-amputee and radical cleric based in London. His orders were to help train recruits "who wanted to participate in jihad on behalf of a terrorist organization," he said in a barely audible voice at the sentencing in federal court in Manhattan.
Before pleading guilty to conspiracy and supporting terrorism, the Sheffield, England-born Aswat told U.S. District Judge Katherin Forrest that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at 20. The judge ruled that the sentencing could go forward because the defendant was under medical care and showing no symptoms.
Aswat, 40, was charged in 2005 in the plot to establish the camp for military training at a site known as Dog Cry Ranch. Prosecutors accused the defendant of arriving in Oregon with instructions on how to make bombs and poisons.
According to court papers, one communication between the conspirators said that the property was located in a "pro-militia and firearms state" that "looks just like Afghanistan" and that the group was "stockpiling weapons and ammunition." But the camp never materialized beyond a dozen people taking target practice, authorities said.
Aswat faces up to 20 years in prison at sentencing July 31. It was unclear whether he could get credit for the nearly 10 years he spent behind bars in the United Kingdom fighting extradition to the United States. Prosecutors had no immediate comment Monday.
Mustafa was sentenced this year to life in prison following a trial in the same Manhattan courthouse.
Authorities say Mustafa, also known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, turned London's Finsbury Park Mosque in the 1990s into a training ground for Islamic extremists, attracting men including Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid. He claims to have lost his hands fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.