One of two Queens, New York, men accused last year of plotting to attack synagogues pleaded guilty, marking the first conviction on state terror laws that were passed shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ahmed Ferhani, 27, a native of Algeria, pleaded guilty today in state court in Manhattan to 10 counts, including five counts of criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism, two counts of criminal sale of a firearm as a crime of terrorism, conspiracy as a crime of terrorism, conspiracy as a hate crime and attempted criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism.
“Manhattan embodies everything that terrorists hate about our lives and our culture: diversity, tolerance, and opportunity,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement. “The threat is real, and terrorism requires us to be constantly on alert. Whether targeting well-organized terror cells or lone wolves planning their own jihad, there is no margin for error because a successful terror attack will be deadly.”
New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus agreed to sentence Ferhani to 10 years in prison and five years of post-release supervision pending a presentence report. Ferhani, who came to the U.S. with his parents and two siblings in 1995, is likely to be deported after he finishes serving his sentence, Obus said.
“This is not the way anyone should conduct their affairs no matter what the issue,” Obus said. “There is just no getting around the seriousness of these charges. Something like this strikes a chord in society.”
Ferhani was arrested in May 2011 along with Mohamed Mamdouh, 21, a Moroccan immigrant, and accused of conspiring to bomb synagogues and churches in Manhattan.
The two men pleaded not guilty in June 2011 to a grand jury indictment against them. The grand jury declined to indict them on a more serious conspiracy crime that they were charged with after their arrest that would have carried a sentence of life in prison. Ferhani’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 30, while Mamdouh’s next court appearance is set for Jan. 7.
The men were apprehended after buying two Browning semi-automatic pistols, a Smith & Wesson revolver, ammunition and an inert grenade. The arrests followed an eight-month undercover operation by Vance and the New York City Police Department.
Prosecutors had asked the judge to impose a term of 14 years in prison, citing the seriousness of the alleged offenses and the criminal history of Ferhani, who Assistant District Attorney Gary J. Galperin said was responsible for a knifepoint robbery as a teenager and who boasted of placing an explosive in the tailpipe of someone’s car to settle a dispute.
“Clearly this is not a first-time offender,” Galperin said in court. “This is not someone who has just gone astray. The sentence should reflect in and of itself the seriousness of the case and the history of the offender.”
Ferhani said in a statement that he read in court that he and Mamdouh developed a plan to attack and damage a synagogue in Manhattan or elsewhere using explosives for the purpose of “intimidating and coercing the Jewish population of New York City.”
Ferhani said he met a fellow Muslim in October 2010 named “Ilter,” who later turned out to be an undercover detective, and talked about his anger towards Jewish people because of their “mistreatment of Muslims around the world.”
The trio agreed to buy three loaded guns and a grenade in furtherance of the plan, and traveled into Manhattan from Queens on May 11, 2011, to buy the weapons from a dealer who later turned out to be another undercover detective, Ferhani said. They were arrested minutes after making the purchase.
“By targeting a synagogue, I intended to create chaos and send a message of intimidation and coercion to the Jewish population of New York City, warning them to stop mistreating Muslims,” said Ferhani, who was shackled and dressed in orange Department of Correction clothing and entered court walking with a cane.
Ferhani’s lawyer, Lamis Deek, said after today’s hearing that a 10-year sentence “was determined to be in his best interest.” Ferhani faced a maximum of 25 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him.
Ferhani’s lawyers have argued that their client has had mental issues since he was a teenager and was entrapped by police, and that he was only seeking to buy the weapons so that he could resell them.
“It’s clear that he was not the mastermind,” Deek said. “This is a young man who could have been helped..”
The case is New York v. Ferhani, 2461/2011, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).