An American Muslim convicted of joining al-Qaeda and plotting to assassinate United States President George Bush was sentenced to 30 years behind bars by a judge who compared him to ”American Taliban” John Walker Lindh.
Prosecutors had asked for the maximum — a life sentence — for Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a 25-year-old US citizen who was born to a Jordanian father and raised in Virginia.
Authorities said Abu Ali went to Saudi Arabia in 2002 out of hatred for the US. The Saudis arrested him in June 2003 as he was taking final exams at the Islamic University of Medina.
”The facts of this case are still astonishing,” prosecutor David Laufman said. ”Barely a year after September 11 the defendant joined the organisation responsible for 3 000 deaths.”
But US District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee said 30 years was sufficient punishment, pointing out that Lindh — captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan in November 2001 during the US-led effort to topple the Taliban — received a 20-year sentence. Abu Ali’s actions ”did not result in one single actual victim. That fact must be taken into account,” he said.
Abu Ali, wearing a green prison jumpsuit, declined to speak before his sentence was imposed on Wednesday. Defence lawyers said they plan to appeal.
He was convicted in November of conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to hijack aircraft and providing support to al-Qaeda, among other crimes.
The jury in the three-week trial saw a videotaped confession Abu Ali gave to the Saudis in which he said he joined al-Qaeda because he hated the US for its support of Israel.
He claimed that the Saudis had extracted a confession from him through torture. Prosecutors denied he was mistreated.
Abu Ali said he had the scars on his back that proved he was whipped or beaten by the Saudis. Pictures were taken of his back, and doctors for both the government and the defence examined him, coming to different conclusions.
In February, defence lawyers asked for a review of the conviction in light of the disclosure that the Bush administration had eavesdropped on suspected terrorists’ conversations without search warrants. Abu Ali’s lawyers said they suspected, but had no firm evidence, that Abu Ali had been a target of the surveillance programme.
The government’s response was not made public, but the judge decided to go ahead with the sentencing after receiving it. — Sapa-AP