Jordanian man gets 24 years in Dallas bomb plot

Hosam Smadi receives a reduced sentence after pleading guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction

Published October 19, 2010 6:26PM (EDT)

A Jordanian man caught in an FBI sting trying to blow up a Dallas skyscraper has been sentenced to 24 years in federal prison.

Hosam Smadi was sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Dallas, just blocks from the 60-story office tower he had targeted. He faced up to life in prison but received a reduced sentence after pleading guilty in May to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

The 20-year-old Smadi will likely be deported after serving his sentence.

Smadi acknowledged leaving what he thought was a truck bomb in a garage beneath the Fountain Place building in September 2009. Smadi said he parked the truck, activated a timer connected to the decoy provided by undercover FBI agents, then rode away to watch the explosion.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

DALLAS (AP) -- A 20-year-old Jordanian man who tried to bomb a downtown Dallas skyscraper could take the stand Tuesday as a federal judge considers his sentence.

Attorneys for Hosam Smadi said their client may testify during the second day of his sentencing hearing. On Monday, his father testified that Smadi became deeply depressed after his mother's death four years ago, even sleeping by her grave, and doctors provided dueling conclusions of whether Smadi suffered from mental illness.

The hearing at the federal courthouse in Dallas is just blocks away from the 60-story office tower where Smadi parked and tried to detonate what he believed was a truck bomb in September 2009. It was decoy provided by undercover FBI agents.

Smadi pleaded guilty in May to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, and acknowledged in plea documents that he tried to carry out the attack. He could face life in prison, but if U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn accepts the plea deal, Smadi would likely receive a 30-year sentence and then face deportation.

In arguing for a lighter sentence Monday, his public defenders portrayed Smadi as troubled and depressed. They said he exhibited signs of depression and mental illness when his parents separated and suffered a breakdown after his mother died of cancer in 2006.

FBI officials, however, told a different story. After monitoring Smadi for nine months, agents believed he was a committed would-be terrorist determined to connect with al-Qaida or Hamas.

Doctors also offered opposing views. A psychologist testifying for the defense, Xavier Amador, pointed to interviews in which Smadi said he saw a devil in his home who tied his hands and grabbed his mouth. Smadi also told the doctor that he felt certain he helped his dying mother survive a year longer, thoughts Amador said were "delusional and grandiose."

But prosecutors' psychiatrist, Raymond Patterson, said Smadi "makes up psychiatric symptoms" and seemed to weather the divorce of his parents and death of his mother.

Smadi's relationship with his father was difficult and abusive. His father, Maher Smadi, testified that he often beat his son with his fists and a chain, and once tried to run him down with a car.

The father said he sent Hosam Smadi to the U.S. in March 2007, because their relationship was strained and he wanted the teenager to get an education and "start a new life." Maher Smadi said he visited his son near San Jose, Calif., less than a year later and was upset to find him smoking, drinking and cursing Islam. His son moved to the Dallas area a short time later.

Smadi's father and 12-year-old sister broke into loud sobs when he was led into the courtroom at the start of Monday's hearing wearing an orange prison jumpsuit with his ankles chained together. Smadi was polite, occasionally speaking to the judge.

Mohammad al Zughoul, a former neighbor of the Smadis in Jordan, said in tearful testimony that his neighbors were a happy family until a rumor began circulating that the elder Smadi's wife was involved in an affair with another neighbor. The rumor infuriated Maher Smadi, who acknowledged he began beating his wife and four children.

"Hosam had a lot of suffering," al Zughoul said. "He was taking the responsibility of fighting his father. It destroyed Hosam -- this rumor -- and I know he is still suffering from that."

According to the plea documents, the younger Smadi acknowledged leaving what he thought was a truck bomb in a garage beneath the Fountain Place building in Dallas. Smadi said he parked the truck, started a timer connected to the decoy provided by undercover FBI agents, then rode away to watch the explosion.

Smadi dialed a cell phone number from the roof of a nearby parking garage, where he had planned to watch the explosion. The number was supposed to set off the bomb, but it instead alerted tactical agents hiding in a stairwell, who swarmed the rooftop and arrested Smadi.

Posing as members of an al-Qaida sleeper cell, three undercover FBI employees had monitored Smadi since January 2009. After he shared his plans to blow up the office tower, they helped him secure a truck and fake bomb used to carry out the mission, according to court documents.

FBI agents said they were fortunate to find Smadi -- spewing hatred for America on an extremist website -- before he made contact with a terrorist group.

"Smadi was asked what he would do if he had never met the al-Qaida 'sleeper' cell," said Tom Petrowski, a supervisory special agent with the FBI in Dallas, in an affidavit. "Smadi replied that he would keep looking for such an entity to be a part of, even if it meant him having to leave the United States and go to Palestine and join Hamas or go back to Pakistan and join the Taliban."

By Jeff Carlton

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