NEW YORK (AP) — An Algerian New Yorker was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday for plotting an attack on New York City synagogues, even as his lawyers continued to insist that he was manipulated by a police mole and never had any intention of carrying it out.
Ahmed Ferhani, 28, pleaded guilty in December to rare state-level terrorism charges in order to avoid the possibility of decades in prison.
His lawyers acknowledged that he purchased guns, ammunitions and an inert grenade at the conclusion of an elaborate police sting. Investigators also recorded Ferhani saying hateful things about Jews and talking about attacking houses of worship. But Ferhani and his lawyers say his true intention was to sell the weapons on the black market because he was desperate for money. The police recordings also captured him talking about lining up buyers and speculating about how much he might earn.
"This was, your honor, a gun crime, and not a crime of terrorism," his lawyer, Lamis Deek, told the judge.
At his sentencing hearing, Ferhani apologized to his parents, who he said had raised him to be respectful of people, regardless of their race, religions or sexual orientation.
"They were humiliated, attacked and harassed on a daily basis over the last two years," said Ferhani, who moved to the U.S. to escape Algeria's civil war as a child and spoke in a New York accent. "I was raised by parents who taught me to put others before myself."
He promised to make something of his life once released.
"I will use this time to strengthen my mind and character," he said.
Ferhani is almost certain to be deported to Algeria after his release from jail. His citizenship applications over the years had been denied because of his past criminal history and mental health problems that included repeated hospitalizations for psychiatric disorders.
Ferhani's case has attracted attention from some civil rights advocates because of the tactics police used to reel him in. An undercover operative befriended Ferhani shortly after his release from a three-month jail term, then gradually steered him into talks about retaliating against Jews and others for the way Muslims were treated around the world. The FBI and federal prosecutors who normally join in on anti-terror investigations declined to get involved in this case. A grand jury also declined to indict him and a co-defendant on a top-level terror conspiracy charge.
Prosecutors say any sympathy for Ferhani is misplaced.
At the sentencing hearing, Assistant District attorney Gary Galperin said Ferhani's willingness to not only talk about a terrorist attack, but actually acquire weapons, showed he had a "clear dangerousness to society."
He cited the "need to send a strong message of general deterrence," in calling for a stiff sentence.
The outcome of his sentencing hearing this week was predetermined. The judge, Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus, had already promised to impose the 10-year term that was agreed upon by prosecutors and defense attorneys in Ferhani's December plea bargain.
After Deek railed against what she said was police misconduct in the case, Obus warned that "we are not litigating the conduct of the New York City Police Department."
And he said that Ferhani's conduct was deplorable, noting that almost any civilized person would have reacted with anger and outrage, rather than sympathy, to a proposed plot to blow up a building.
In a statement following the sentencing, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Ferhani posed a real threat to New York City's Jewish community, and heralded the work of the NYPD Intelligence Bureau in ensuring the imprisonment of a "dangerous man."
Outside the courthouse, Deek said her client only pleaded guilty to the terrorism charges because 10 years was a sentence too good to pass up. She said Ferhani probably would have gotten nine years in jail on the weapons charges, even if terrorism wasn't involved.
The case against another man who was arrested along with Ferhani in May of 2001, Mohamed Mamdouh, is still pending.
Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Tom Hays contributed to this report.