By Kaija Wilkinson
MOBILE, Alabama (Reuters) - Two men accused of plotting to wage violent holy war overseas were sentenced to 15 years in prison each on Friday by a federal judge in Alabama who said their lack of remorse made it likely they would conspire to commit such acts again.
Randy "Rasheed" Wilson and Mohammad Abdul Rahman Abukhdair got the maximum punishment after pleading guilty earlier this year to charges of conspiring to provide "material support to terrorists."
U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose said she pored over hundreds of hours of recorded conversations and emails between Wilson and Abukhdair and concluded they had conceived a "well-researched plan" to support jihad. They also spoke of killing Americans to further their cause, the judge said.
The men were in the process of putting their plan into motion when they bought airplane tickets to Morocco and were trying to leave the country when they were arrested in separate locations in Georgia in December 2012, DuBose said at the hearing in Mobile.
"Most people in this courtroom support people's right to have whatever beliefs they want," she said. "But when a religion requires you to murder, that is crossing the line."
Federal authorities said Wilson and Abukhdair, both in their mid-20s, met online in 2010. Abukhdair, a resident of Syracuse, New York, moved in with Wilson and his family in Mobile in 2011 after having been in Egypt, where he was jailed on suspicion of similar crimes.
Their friendship revolved around extreme Islamic views, prosecutors said.
Undercover FBI agents began watching them in 2011 and recorded their discussions about where they could go to best defend Islam. The men eventually settled on the African nation of Mauritania, adjacent to Mali, which has seen a surge in Islamist violence, court documents said.
Wilson's attorney argued that his client was guilty only of thinking about crimes that he never carried out.
"I ask you to punish Randy Wilson, not Osama bin Laden or any of these other people," said Wilson's attorney, Dom Soto. "This is basically a case of outing Randy Wilson because he said some terrible things."
Authorities previously said Wilson was a friend and former roommate of Omar Hammami, an Alabama native who became a senior leader in al Shabaab, a Somalia-based al Qaeda affiliate. Hammami, who was on the FBI's "Most Wanted Terrorists" list, was killed in a gunbattle in Somalia in September.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Gunna Dickson)