NEW BERN, N.C. (AP) — An American-born Muslim was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison for participating in a North Carolina terrorism ring that federal agents said plotted attacks on the Quantico U.S. Marine Corps base and foreign targets.
Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, 24, was convicted in October of providing material support to terrorists, but acquitted of a charge of conspiracy to carry out attacks overseas. Hassan used his Facebook account and Internet forums to post his own comments and videos by others encouraging Muslims to fight nonbelievers and Muslims who did not agree with their desire to establish mandatory religious law, prosecutors said..
Hassan also attempted to contact Anwar Al-Awlaki, a powerful American-born Muslim preacher and al-Qaida propagandist, and emailed a co-conspirator a copy of Al-Awlaki's tract "44 ways to support Jihad," Judge Louise Flanigan said. Al-Awlaki was killed in September in the mountains of Yemen by an American airstrike.
"You willingly became part of the Internet propaganda machine that is a canker on this world," Flanigan said. "You were prey, and a component, of something that was incredibly harmful and destructive."
Hassan and two other men at sentencing hearings Friday were part of a group of eight men who federal investigators say raised money, stockpiled weapons and trained in preparation for jihadist attacks against American military targets and others they deemed enemies of Islam.
Defense attorneys for all three men argued for lesser sentences since they were convicted of discussions of terrorism rather than terrorist acts. Their convictions have stirred the Muslim community in the Raleigh area where they lived, and the courtroom Friday was packed by more than three dozen supporters.
Hassan protested his innocence of the crime.
"I did post some highly inflammatory things on the Internet, but I am no terrorist," he said. He rejected Flanigan's sentence, and his father Aly Hassan, accused the judge and prosecutors of targeting Muslims.
"You're prosecuting Islam. The judge should be sitting here with the government," Aly Hassan said, pointing to the prosecutors. Mohammed Hassan's lawyer said he would appeal the conviction.
Ziyad Yaghi was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism and conspiracy to carry out attacks overseas. Hysen Sherifi was convicted for both crimes, two counts of firearms possession, and conspiracy to kill federal officers or employees by discussing an attack on the Quantico, Va., Marine Corps base with ringleader Daniel Boyd, who had lived on the base as a child with his Marine officer father.
Hassan and Yaghi were accused of attempting to travel to Israel in 2007 to meet up with Boyd and his sons to look for avenues to join other militants and to scout targets for an attack. Defense lawyers and relatives said the young men traveled to tour holy sites, stay with relatives and, in Yaghi's case, find a wife.
Defense lawyers for the three men said the government's case amounted to prosecuting young Muslims who did little more than watch jihadist videos on computers and trade "stupid" Facebook posts in support of those fighting Americans overseas.
Boyd, a convert to Islam, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges in February and has yet to be sentenced. Two of his sons pleaded guilty to similar charges and were sentenced to eight years and nine years in prison.
Another defendant, Anes Subasic, is set to be tried separately, while an eighth indicted man is at large and believed to be in Pakistan.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio