Three members of a home-grown terror ring who conspired to attack the Quantico U.S. Marine Corps base and foreign targets were sentenced Friday to between 15 and 45 years in federal prison.
Hysen Sherifi, 27, will serve 45 years in prison; Ziyad Yaghi, 23, got nearly 32 years; and Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, 24, was sentenced to 15 years. They faced the possibility of life in prison. Each said they would appeal their convictions and claimed innocence. Dozens of members of Raleigh's Muslim community made the five-hour round-trip to coastal New Bern to witness the hearing for the men who supporters believe were unjustly convicted.
Defense attorneys argued for lesser sentences since the men were convicted of discussing terrorism rather than committing terrorist acts.
"I believe I am innocent. There was no conspiracy," said Serifi, who called his guilty verdict unfair and prosecutors tyrants.
But U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan said the men went beyond talk to planning violence.
Yaghi was a "self-starter" in pursuing holy war against those deemed un-Islamic and brought several potential jihadi recruits to ringleader Daniel Patrick Boyd, whose rural Johnston County home was a warehouse of weapons, Flanagan said. Yaghi traveled to Jordan and Israel to look for avenues to join other militants and to scout targets for an attack.
Sherifi discussed an attack on the Quantico, Va., Marine Corps base with Boyd, a Muslim convert who had lived on the base as a child with his Marine officer father.
Hassan used his Facebook account and Internet forums to post his own comments and videos by others encouraging Muslims to fight nonbelievers and Muslims who did not agree with their desire to establish mandatory religious law, prosecutors said.
Hassan also attempted to contact Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American-born Muslim preacher and al-Qaida propagandist, and emailed a co-conspirator a copy of Al-Awlaki's tract "44 ways to support Jihad," Flanagan said. Al-Awlaki was killed by an American airstrike in September in the mountains of Yemen.
"You willingly became part of the Internet propaganda machine that is a canker on this world," Flanagan said. "You were prey, and a component, of something that was incredibly harmful and destructive."
The trio is among eight men who federal investigators say raised money, stockpiled weapons and trained in preparation for jihadist attacks. The plot "had a specific purpose _ to inspire others to adhere to radical Islam and if you did not you were fair game," prosecutor Jason Kellhofer said.
Hassan called his actions stupid, but not a crime.
"I did post some highly inflammatory things on the Internet, but I am no terrorist," he said. He rejected Flanigan's sentence, and his father, Aly Hassan, accused the judge and prosecutors of targeting Muslims.
"You're prosecuting Islam. The judge should be sitting here with the government," Aly Hassan said, pointing to the prosecutors.
Yaghi was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism and conspiracy to carry out attacks overseas. Sherifi was convicted of both crimes, two counts of firearms possession, and conspiracy to kill federal officers or employees for plotting the Quantico attack. Hassan was convicted of providing material support to terrorists, but acquitted of a charge of conspiracy to carry out attacks overseas.
Boyd pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges in February and has yet to be sentenced. Two of his sons pleaded guilty to similar charges and were sentenced to eight years and nine years in prison.
Another defendant, Anes Subasic, is set to be tried separately, while an eighth indicted man is at large and believed to be in Pakistan.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio