MIAMI (AP) — A Kenyan man described by U.S. prosecutors as a fundraiser and recruiter for terrorist groups in Africa and the Middle East was sentenced Friday to 15 years in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro imposed the maximum possible sentence on 27-year-old Mohamed Said. He pleaded guilty in May to charges of conspiring to support to Africa's violent al-Shabaab organization and al-Qaida affiliates in Syria and elsewhere.
Said's attorney, Silvia Pinera-Vazquez, had sought a more lenient eight-year sentence because Said never plotted directly against the U.S. and was solely supporting what she described as foreign "insurgents."
"There is simply no evidence of direct intent to harm the United States," she said.
But Ungaro said terrorist groups he supported have an avowed intent to attack the U.S. and its interests overseas.
"It's not reasonable to say that his conduct did not touch the United States. It did," Ungaro said.
Said and co-defendant Gufran Mohammed were arrested in 2013 in Saudi Arabia in a case that evolved from undercover FBI monitoring of Internet chat rooms frequented by Islamic extremists. Mohammed, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from India, is already serving a 15-year prison sentence after pleading guilty.
Said, from Mombasa, Kenya, had never been to the U.S. before his arrest. It was his use of the Internet and communications with undercover FBI operatives and Mohammed — who lived in the Los Angeles area — that enabled the U.S. to charge him with federal terrorism support crimes.
Of the two, Said played the more critical role because of his connections to the leadership of the terrorist groups and knowledge of their inner workings, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ricardo Del Toro. The prosecutor noted that al-Shabaab's most notorious attack was the 2013 assault on a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that left 67 people dead.
"He was an insider in al-Shabaab," Del Toro said. "The goal of these organizations is to murder civilians."
When he pleaded guilty, Said admitted to receiving $11,600 in wire transfers from Mohammed that he distributed to al-Shabaab fighters. Prosecutors say evidence indicates that Said discussed receiving thousands of dollars more from other sources and recruited known terrorists to be sent to Syria.
He also told an FBI covert employee in an email that he knew a British citizen who could travel to the U.S. to stage a suicide attack, according to court documents, and compared the unidentified person to the 19 hijackers who pulled off the 9/11 attacks.
"He is willing to join any group and if you want (to give) him work in the U.S., like martyrdom operations, that won't be a problem," Said wrote in the email. "I'll ask him if he wishes to be like those 19 brothers."
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