Two Georgia men were each sentenced to more than 10 years in prison Monday for plotting to aid terrorists by sending homemade videos of Washington landmarks overseas and traveling abroad to try to turn their anti-American rhetoric into action.
Ehsanul Islam Sadequee, 23, was sentenced to 17 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of four terror-related charges in August. He faced a maximum sentence of as many as 60 years behind bars.
Hours later, Sadequee's friend Syed Haris Ahmed was sentenced to 13 years in prison on a charge of conspiring to support terrorist groups. The 25-year-old could have received as many as 15 years in prison after his June conviction.
The men, who are both U.S. citizens, were also sentenced to 30 years in supervised release.
In separate trials, the two sought to portray their online discussions about jihad as empty talk, and prosecutors acknowledge they never posed an imminent threat to the U.S. But prosecutors say the two took concrete steps when they sent choppy video clips of landmarks to suspected terrorists and traveled abroad to meet with contacts.
"This is not about the defendants' religion," said Robert McBurney, an assistant U.S. attorney. "We're here because actions they took posed a significant threat."
The sentencing by U.S. District Judge Bill Duffey came after a bizarre hearing in which Sadequee, who represented himself, gave a rambling 50-minute sermon about Islam. Sadequee broke into prayer and melodic chants several times and recited Quran passages in Arabic and English.
"I submit to no one's authority but the authority of God," he said.
Duffey responded with a stern speech, saying that Sadequee acted with cold calculation and never showed remorse for his actions.
"You have every right to reject our country and its values and to openly criticize it," he said. "But what we don't allow is to engage in crimes that put others at risk. And this is what you're being held accountable to today."
Ahmed also took an unusual approach. He spent most of his later hearing trying to convince the judge that he never intended to follow through on his rhetoric. But then he asked for the maximum sentence, vowing to use his time behind bars to preach his faith.
"If you give me 15 years," he said, "it will be more pleasing than time served."
Duffey, sounding agitated, said he would not be manipulated.
"You've taken bits and pieces of the evidence to justify that you were a naive young man manipulated to join this conspiracy," he said. "But you are a smart, calculated and committed young man. Committed to conduct that we abhor, conduct that we punish."
Federal authorities had been tracking the two men for more than a year before apprehending them. Sadequee, they said, first sought to join the Taliban in December 2001 and then spent the next few years delving deeper into radical online forums and meeting other supporters.
One was Ahmed, a former Georgia Tech student who quickly became friends with Sadequee. Authorities say the two took a bus to Toronto in March 2005 and met with at least three other subjects of a federal investigation to discuss possible attack targets.
A month later, the pair drove Ahmed's pickup truck to Washington and shot 62 clips of sites including the U.S. Capitol, a fuel depot and a Masonic Temple in northern Virginia, authorities said.
One of the videos, which was played for jurors at both men's trials, showed the two driving by the Pentagon as Sadequee said: "This is where our brothers attacked the Pentagon."
Sadequee was also accused of trying to aid a Pakistani-based terror group while on a trip to Bangladesh in 2005, and prosecutors said Ahmed traveled to Pakistan in July 2005 in an unsuccessful attempt to study in an Islamic military school and possibly join a militia.
Supporters of the two men, who packed the downtown Atlanta courthouse, were sullen after the sentences were handed down.
"It was extreme and not just," said Samia Ahmed, the sister of the defendant. "There were no crimes committed and they were punished for their thoughts and not actions."