NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former New York resident was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a Manhattan federal judge on Wednesday for helping a friend send waterproof socks, ponchos and sleeping bags to al Qaeda militants in Pakistan.
Syed Fahad Hashmi, 30, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty in April to one count of material support to a foreign terrorist organization, Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda.
As part of a deal with U.S. prosecutors, Hashmi admitted that between January 2004 and May 2006, he helped Mohammed Junaid Babar, a friend from the New York City borough of Queens, transport the equipment to militants in Pakistan to use while fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Hashmi lent Babar $300 and stored the materials in his London apartment, prosecutors said.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska said on Wednesday that Hashmi had been a knowing and willing al Qaeda supporter and because of his U.S. citizenship represented a unique threat.
“He joined the organization’s global support network and did everything that was asked of him ... he knew exactly what he was doing,” Preska said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan McGuire told the court that while Hashmi never had direct ties with al Qaeda, his “extreme jihad ideology” and the level of trust al Qaeda supporters in London placed in him proved his willingness to harm Americans.
Hashmi was arrested at Heathrow Airport in Britain in June 2006 under an extradition request by U.S. authorities. He was brought to the United States in May 2007.
At times defiant and choked with tears, Hashmi addressed the court on Wednesday for 20 minutes, reading from hand- scribbled notes. He attributed his “many, many mistakes” to a misunderstanding of Islam and being manipulated by others.
“I did it when I was ignorant of Allah and his message,” said Hashmi, dressed in a white tunic, gray cardigan and prayer cap. “Muslims cannot wage war against non-Muslims in their host country.”
He concluded, “Yes I was wrong in helping my brothers the noble mujahideen, but they will always be in my prayers.” He also berated the United States for its treatment of Muslims in prisons, saying they were “held in captivity” like animals.
Rights activists have criticized Hashmi’s jail conditions, holding candlelight vigils outside his Manhattan detention facility. For almost three years, he has been in solitary confinement with 23-hour-a-day lockdowns, constant video surveillance and almost no visitors.
The years he already spent in detention will likely go toward his sentence, leaving eight or nine years of prison time, said Hashmi’s attorney, David Ruhnke.
Editing by Michelle Nichols and Peter Cooney
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