An Al Qaeda terrorist who grew up in Dubai was sentenced on Tuesday to 45 years in prison for his role in building a bomb that was used in an attack on a US military base in Afghanistan.
Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, 32, was convicted last year after his fingerprints were found on a huge car bomb that failed to detonate in the attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman (FOBC) in Khost province in 2009.
The prison term falls short of the life sentence demanded by prosecutors, but Al Farekh’s lawyer said he would be appealing the conviction.
During the sentencing hearing in a Brooklyn courtroom, judge Brian Cogan cited the support of his family in deciding that he was not “totally devoid of humanity”. With time served and good behaviour he could be free by the age of 67, he said.
The trial heard that Al Farekh fell under the influence of Anwar Al Awlaki, an Al Qaeda propagandist, while a student in Canada. He travelled to Pakistan with two friends in 2007 with plans to link up with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
However, his American nationality – he was born in Texas – meant Al Qaeda recruiters instead turned him towards working on attacks against the US.
At one point he was believed to have risen to such a senior role in the group plotting international attacks that American officials considered adding him to a drone kill list.
He was eventually detained by Pakistani security forces in 2014 and sent to the US to stand trial a year later.
It took a jury little more than 24 hours to find him guilty of conspiring to murder Americans, using a weapon of mass destruction and supporting a foreign terrorist organisation.
In their submission to the court, the prosecution said his seniority in Al Qaeda and his role in attacking Americans mandated a life sentence.
“Equally important in this case is general deterrence. Simply put, the sentence imposed should send a message to all would-be terrorists that if they conspire to train and fight, and if they support Al Qaeda’s call to murder Americans, they will be caught, prosecuted and then imprisoned for life,” they wrote.
For his part, Al Farekh insisted he did not believe in violence of any form, making the point in both a letter read in court and a submission by his lawyer David Ruhnke, who said: “He believes that once one act of violence is justified, it is far too easy to justify the second, then a third, until there is no end in sight.
“Although he does not claim to be an Islamic scholar, Mr Al Farekh is a devout Muslim and does not believe that Islam supports acts of terrorist violence.”
Mr Cogan described the submissions as “not an enthusiastic acceptance of responsibility”.
American law enforcement officials welcomed the sentence and said it showed their reach around the world.
Richard Donoghue, US attorney for the eastern district of New York, said: “Farekh, a citizen of this country, turned his back on America by joining Al Qaeda and trying to kill American soldiers in a bomb attack on a US military base in Afghanistan.
“This case demonstrates that we will do everything in our power to ensure that those who seek to harm our country and our armed forces will be brought to justice.”
Prosecutors said Al Farekh’s bomb could have had a devastating impact and cost many lives.
Two vehicles loaded with explosives were driven to the gates of FOBC, only one exploded. Several Afghans were wounded, but the toll could have been far worse, said the prosecution, if a second device – packed with 3,400kg of explosives – had detonated.