Moroccan Immigrant Gets Five Years in N.Y. Synagogue Plot

A Moroccan immigrant was sentenced to five years in prison for plotting to bomb synagogues in New York City, becoming the second person convicted under state terrorism laws passed shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mohammed Mamdouh, 22, was sentenced today before New York state Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus in Manhattan. The judge also ordered three years’ post-release supervision. Mamdouh pleaded guilty in February 2012 to conspiracy as a crime of terrorism, criminal possession of a weapon and attempted possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism, according to court records.

Mamdouh and fellow Queens, New York, resident Ahmed Ferhani, a native of Algeria, were arrested in May 2011 and accused of conspiring to bomb synagogues and churches. They were apprehended following an eight-month undercover operation after buying two Browning semi-automatic pistols, a Smith & Wesson revolver, ammunition and an inert grenade, police said.

“Their intent was to create chaos and to intimidate and coerce Jews living in New York City, and thereby send a message far beyond New York,” Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Gary J. Galperin said. “It would be a warning to stop the mistreatment of Muslims. This was their cause.”

Terrorism Laws

Ferhani, 28, pleaded guilty in December to 10 counts against him, marking the first conviction under New York state terrorism laws passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and five years of post-release supervision on March 15.

“Today’s sentencing marks the successful conclusion of New York’s first state-level terror prosecution,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement. “Two convicted terrorists are now serving appropriate state prison sentences for their unique roles in a failed conspiracy to set off explosives in New York.”

Prosecutors had recommended Mamdouh serve a five-year prison sentence on each charge, to run concurrent with each other along with a 3 1/2-year sentence he is serving for burglary in Queens. He had faced as much as 25 years in prison for the most serious count he was charged with at his arrest.

The recommendation was made to acknowledge Mamdouh’s “lesser role” in the conspiracy, his “diminished dangerousness” and his expression of remorse, Galperin said. Ferhani conducted himself as the “mastermind” and moved the conspiracy forward, and Mamdouh was often not present when Ferhani spoke with undercover detectives, Galperin said.

‘Deadly Weapons’

“The evidence shows that Ferhani would have purchased the deadly weapons that he did, and more, without defendant Mamdouh,” Galperin said. “There is no evidence to suggest that defendant Mamdouh on his own would have done so without Ferhani. Unfortunately, with criminal intent and penal consequences, defendant Mamdouh joined in the plot and knowingly aided Ferhani.”

Mamdouh didn’t speak during today’s sentencing. His attorney, Aaron Mysliwiec, said his client made no financial contribution to the conspiracy and no arrangements to buy the weapons. Mamdouh has “genuine remorse” for his crimes and “doesn’t have hatred in his heart for any race, creed or religion,” Mysliwiec said.

“At a low point in his life, he made a terrible mistake,” Mysliwiec said. “He recognizes that and is genuinely remorseful for that mistake.”

‘Undisputed Seriousness’

Obus accepted the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation, while noting the “undisputed seriousness” of the crimes.

The federal government generally takes the lead in terror probes and had declined to participate in this and one other case brought under the same state law, a person familiar with the matter said.

In 2011, in an unrelated case, New York prosecutors charged a Manhattan man and alleged al-Qaeda sympathizer with plotting to bomb government offices and police vehicles in the metropolitan area as part of an effort to kill federal employees and military personnel.

Jose Pimentel, who was later indicted, was under police surveillance for more than a year. He was allegedly motivated in part by the federal government’s assassination of a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was affiliated with al-Qaeda, and whose online magazine, “Inspire,” published bomb-making instructions. Pimentel is scheduled to return to court on June 12.

‘Stark Reminder’

Mamdouh’s sentencing came the day after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the two brothers suspected in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings on April 15 planned to drive to New York and set off explosives in Times Square.

“It is at once fitting and frightening that we are here on this New York City case only 11 days after the Boston marathon bombings, a stark reminder that we live in a changed world where the threat of terrorism is ever real and sometimes carried out with catastrophic consequences,” Galperin said. “New York City, prime target that we are, will not cower. Terrorists will be caught, prosecuted and convicted under due process and the rule of law.”

The case is New York v. Ferhani, 2461/2011, New York state Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

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