A Syrian refugee has been sentenced to more than 17 years in what authorities said was a plot to bomb a Christian church in Pittsburgh.
Mustafa Mousab Alowemer, 24, was sentenced Tuesday to 17 years and four months on a guilty plea last year to a federal charge of attempting to provide material support and resources to the Islamic State group, a militant extremist organization.
Authorities said Alowemer, who was born in Syria and came to the United States in 2016, had detailed plans in 2019 to bomb the Legacy International Worship Center, a small Christian church on the city’s North Side. Prosecutors said he wanted to inspire other U.S. supporters of the Islamic State group to conduct similar actions.
Alowemer gave someone he thought was a fellow IS supporter instructions about how to build and use explosives in May 2019, but that person was in fact with the FBI, prosecutors said. A month later, they said, he purchased nails and nail polish remover to build an explosive device, they said.
In a June 2019 meeting with an FBI agent and an FBI confidential source, Alowemer gave them maps with arrival and escape routes, and a handwritten, 10-point plan about how he would deliver the explosives in a backpack. He was arrested about a week later.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that U.S. District Judge Marilyn Horan told Alowemer on Tuesday that the case had brought "nothing but tragic impact" on him and his family, as well as the community.
"You knew full well what you were doing," she sad. "All of your actions were knowing, intentional and deliberate."
Prosecutors sought the maximum term of 20 years. The defense argued for an eight-year term, arguing that years of trauma had left Alowemer with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder as well as survivor's guilt that made him obsessed about what was happening in his homeland.
"At the time of his offense, he was sick, and that sickness contributed to his offense," assistant public defender Andrew Lipson said. "That sickness distorted the world around him."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Soo Song acknowledged that he had endured trauma but said what he planned was not only "an act of terrorism" but had the hallmarks of a hate crime in targeting a Christian church to try to retaliate for actions against ISIS in Nigeria. Other potential targets he identified included classmates and U.S. soldiers, she said.
In court, Alowemer apologized to the church's pastor and congregation as well as the community and the government.
"I understand the severity of my crime," he said. "I no longer think or act the way I used to. I no longer support ISIS."