COLUMBUS, Ohio – A federal judge on Friday delayed a sentencing hearing for a man who plotted to kill military members in the U.S., with the judge saying he needed more information, including the man's current state of mind.
It's not uncommon for judges to ask for extra details about a defendant and a case before a hearing. Less common is for those requests to come during a scheduled sentencing, which on Friday was attended by several members of defendant Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud's family, prosecutors, defense attorneys and FBI agents.
Judge James Graham said the case presented troubling issues, including the fact that Mohamud went to Syria two months after being sworn in as a U.S. citizen in Columbus.
The government alleges Mohamud became a citizen to obtain a U.S. passport. Mohamud bought a ticket to Greece with a stop in Turkey, where he disembarked before going to Syria, prosecutors have said in court documents. They say Mohamud never intended to go to Greece.
Mohamud, who was born in Somalia but came to the U.S. as a child, was arrested in 2015 and pleaded guilty to plotting those attacks after becoming radicalized in Syria. The attacks were never carried out.
Prosecutors said Mohamud wanted to travel to Texas and capture three or four soldiers and execute them. But Mohamud and his lawyer, in asking for leniency this week, said he had realized "the immoral and illegal nature of terrorist ideology" and had rejected "radical notions" and "abandoned any plans to engage in terrorism."
Mohamud's attorney Sam Shamansky said he didn't know what the sentencing delay meant for his client but said he was heartened by the judge's deliberate approach.
"The judge has really asked for some critically important information that I'm hopeful we're able to provide," Shamansky said.
The judge said he needed to know more about the Somali community in Columbus and what efforts prosecutors and city leaders have made to reach out to that community.
He also wants to know whether any federal prisons have programs to rehabilitate inmates who have been radicalized and if there are any similar programs for such inmates after their release.
"I'm also concerned about Mr. Mohamud's current state of mind, whether he's abandoned these beliefs and motives," the judge said.
Prosecutors are seeking a 23-year sentence. They say Mohamud, who's 25 years old, was trained in Syria and tried to cover up dangerous terrorist activity.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman said the government won't change its sentence request as a result of the delay.
He also said his office and the FBI are in constant communication with the area's Somali community, the second biggest in the U.S. after the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
"From the perspective of the United States, the Somali community is a valued partner in our law enforcement efforts," Glassman said.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/andrew-welsh-huggins