ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Maryland man convicted of traveling to Pakistan and seeking to fight with the Taliban (search) against the United States just days after Sept. 11 was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison.
Masoud Khan (search) was one of three people sentenced Tuesday on charges they trained for holy war against the United States by playing paintball games in the Virginia woods as part of a "jihad" network. Prosecutors said Khan's actions were worse than the other suspects because he also traveled overseas to train with a Pakistani militant group after Sept. 11 (search).
"While the Pentagon is still smoking, Mr. Khan decided now is the time to fight against Americans in Afghanistan. He deserves every day he gets," prosecutor Gordon Kromberg said.
A second suspect, Seifullah Chapman (search), was sentenced to 85 years in prison, and a third, Hammad Abdur-Raheem, was given eight years.
The sentences against Chapman and Khan are among the longest prison terms the government has obtained in the war on terrorism.
Khan said before he was sentenced that he was innocent and that he was prosecuted only because he is Muslim.
"To put it bluntly ... had I been a Zionist Jew or a Christian training to fight (in Palestine), I would never have been charged with violating the Neutrality Act," he said, referring to the seldom-used U.S. law that formed the basis for the government's conspiracy charges.
The lengthy terms for Khan and Chapman resulted largely from mandatory minimum sentences stemming from firearms convictions related to the conspiracy.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema (search) said the sentences were "draconian," but she had no choice but to impose them under federal law.
"We have murderers who get far less time," she said. "I've sent Al Qaeda members planning attacks on these shores to less time. This is sticking in my craw. Law and justice at times need to be in tune."
Chapman's attorney, John Zwerling, called the sentence "the greatest miscarriage of justice of any case I've been involved in" in 34 years of practice.
In all, the government charged 11 men arrested as part of the "Virginia jihad" network, and six entered into plea bargains, receiving prison terms ranging from four to 20 years. Two were acquitted of all charges.
Khan, of Gaithersburg, Md., was convicted of the most serious charges, including conspiracy to levy war against the United States and conspiracy to contribute services to the Taliban.
The militant group he trained with was called Lashkar-e-Taiba, which espoused anti-American and anti-Indian rhetoric and was later designated a terrorist group by the United States.
Chapman, of Alexandria, admitted attending the Pakistani camp in August 2001 but said he did so for the grueling physical challenge in the country's rugged mountains.
Abdur-Raheem, of Falls Church, never traveled to Pakistan but was convicted for his role training other conspirators in military tactics in 2000 and 2001 in paintball games.
The defendants — all native U.S. citizens in their 30s — said the paintball games were innocent fun and fellowship among friends.
While the judge said she was upset about the lengthy sentences, she also made it clear that she believed they were guilty and that they knowingly supported a terrorist entity. In fact, it was Brinkema who convicted the three defendants earlier this year in a trial in which all three waived their right to a jury.
"This case was not about paintball," she said. "It was about something much more serious."