BY ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS
COLUMBUS, OHIO (AP) — An Ohio man who admitted he plotted to kill U.S. military members after receiving training in Syria apologized to his family and adopted country Monday before a federal judge sentenced him to 22 years in prison.
After returning to the U.S., Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud planned to fly to Texas and attack the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth in an attempt to free Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist convicted of shooting at two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, Judge Michael Watson said as he outlined the allegations against Mohamud.
Mohamud, 26, told Watson he knew what he'd done was wrong and that he'd fallen into the trap of radicalization while abroad. "Do you have any idea how misguided that was?" Watson asked Mohamud before he sentenced him.
"Absolutely," replied Mohamud, who appeared in jail clothes and had shackles around his ankles and his hands chained to his waist. "I wish I could take it back, your honor." Watson said he based the sentence on the "deadly serious" nature of the crime and the need to deter others from considering similar actions.
Watson drew attention to the fact that Mohamud applied for a passport to travel abroad only a week after he became a U.S. citizen in 2014. Mohamud was born in Somalia and came to the U.S. as a 2-year-old child. He was arrested in 2015 and pleaded guilty a few months later. The attacks were never carried out.
Mohamud bought a ticket to Greece with a stop in Turkey, where he disembarked before going to Syria, prosecutors said in court documents. They said he never intended to go to Greece. Mohamud trained with al-Nusrah Front, a terrorist organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, according to the government.
Defense attorney Sam Shamansky asked for leniency, saying Mohamud didn't have his father around when he was growing up, was brainwashed while abroad "by professional head twisters" but later realized his error and abandoned his plot.
"This is a scared, confused, 23-year-old kid, an American kid, who gets his head twisted," Shamansky said. He called Mohamud's plan "nonsensical." Prosecutors noted Mohamud contacted others from jail after his arrest and told them not to say anything.
"Before Sept. 11, 2001, a plot to take down the twin towers would have been considered nonsensical," said assistant U.S. attorney Doug Squires. "Because of the FBI, this plot was taken down, and we're all safer for it."
Several members of Mohamud's family were in court but did not speak. Watson said, referring to a letter Mohamud's sister had written, "Your actions have shaken the whole family." An investigation continues. Watson made reference to a plot involving at least five people. Shamansky referred to a group he called "the basketball five," but wouldn't elaborate.
The judge also sentenced Mohamud to 10 years of supervision after his release from prison and ordered him to earn his GED while behind bars.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.