New York man sentenced to 15 years for aiding al Qaeda

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 20, 2015 12:52 PM

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York man accused of directing an associate to conduct surveillance of the New York Stock Exchange at the behest of an al Qaeda operative was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Tuesday in New York federal court.

Wesam El-Hanafi, 39, was arrested in April 2010 along with the associate, Sabirhan Hasanoff, a dual U.S.-Australian citizen. El-Hanafi pleaded guilty in June 2010 to providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to provide such support.

The Brooklyn-born El-Hanafi worked as an information technology employee for Lehman Brothers at the bank’s Dubai offices until his arrest. Prosecutors claim he used his expertise to help advise al Qaeda contacts how to avoid detection while communicating online.

El-Hanafi and Hasanoff also sent $67,000 and equipment to al Qaeda contacts, prosecutors said.

"He was living the American dream," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan told U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood on Tuesday. "And then he turned his back on America and aligned himself with our greatest enemy."

El-Hanafi told Wood he took "full responsibility."

"I didn't just make the wrong choices; I made the worst choices," he said.

Wood said El-Hanafi's remorse, as well as health problems he developed in custody, convinced her a maximum 20-year sentence was unnecessary.

According to El-Hanafi’s lawyers, he developed a leg clot during the flight from the United Arab Emirates to the United States following his arrest, a condition that was first undiagnosed and then untreated. As a result, they said, he will suffer pain and limited mobility for the rest of his life.

“The executive branch of the United States government has given Mr. El-Hanafi a sentence far more harsh than any that could be imposed by this court,” his lawyers wrote in court filings before sentencing.

In 2008, El-Hanafi traveled to Yemen to meet with a man known as “the Doctor,” according to court documents. In addition to requesting items for use in attacks, such as watches that could be used to detonate explosives, the Doctor told El-Hanafi to have Hasanoff conduct surveillance of the stock exchange “unquestionably with the purpose of gathering information for a future terrorist attack,” prosecutors said.

Hasanoff, a former accountant for KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers, also pleaded guilty in June 2012 and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

El-Hanafi filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court against the government alleging improper medical treatment. A judge dismissed most of the claims earlier this month.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Tom Brown)