N.Y. accountant sentenced to 18 years in prison for aiding al Qaeda

NEW YORK Mon Sep 30, 2013 12:56pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - An accountant who scoped out the New York Stock Exchange as a potential target for al Qaeda was sentenced on Monday to 18 years in prison.

Sabirhan Hasanoff, a dual U.S. and Australian citizen living in New York, provided financial support to al Qaeda and conducted surveillance of the New York Stock Exchange in 2008, prosecutors said. He also sought to travel overseas to receive military training to fight Americans, they said.

U.S. intelligence officials said in June that Hasanoff's arrest was indirectly the result of monitoring by the U.S. National Security Agency of a "known extremist in Yemen."

Hasanoff, who had previously worked at accounting firms including KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers, pleaded guilty in June 2012, nearly two years after he was arrested on charges of conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda.

U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood said on Monday that Hasanoff appeared to be "a charitable, loving, good family man" before he became radicalized.

"None of that, however, deterred him from planning to leave his family and die fighting jihad against Americans," Wood said.

Wood also ordered Hasanoff to forfeit $70,000.

Hasanoff's lawyer, Joshua Dratel, portrayed his client as a family man who was "psychologically lured" into extremism. Like some Muslims in the West, Dratel said, Hasanoff was "guilt-tripped" into his crimes.

Hasanoff, 37, apologized to the court and his friends and family, many of whom were present.

"I'm very sorry for my conduct," Hasanoff said. "I should have known better and I don't have any excuse."

Prosecutors said Hasanoff cased the NYSE in 2008 and sent a one-page report back to a co-conspirator in Yemen. Hasanoff additionally acquired items at al Qaeda's request, including a device that could be used to remotely detonate explosives, prosecutors said.

"There is simply no aspect of this case that calls for any leniency," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan, who asked that Hasanoff be sentenced to the maximum of 20 years in prison. "He agreed to support al Qaeda."

New York-born Wesam El-Hanafi, who was arrested along with Hasanoff in April 2010, is scheduled to be sentenced November 18, after also pleading guilty last year.

In a letter to the court filed June 17, Hasanoff said he had been trying to connect with his Muslim faith in 2007 "and reconcile that faith with what I saw as atrocities committed against Muslims around the world."

Hasanoff, who was born in China, said he was a member of the Islamic ethnic minority group called Uighurs. His family moved to Australia when he was a child in 1980 as part of a refugee program.

The case is USA v. El-Hanafi et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, 10-cr-00162.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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