Image: Christopher Paul
Franklin County Sheriff's Office  /  AP file
Christopher Paul, 43, of Columbus, Ohio, pleaded guilty in June to one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, specifically bombs, in terrorist attacks.
updated 2/26/2009 4:49:21 PM ET 2009-02-26T21:49:21

An Ohio man was sentenced to 20 years in prison Thursday over allegations he joined al-Qaida and helped plot terrorist bombings in the U.S. and overseas.

American-born Christopher Paul, who has never publicly discussed the case, declined the judge's invitation to make a statement.

U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost said he was at a loss to explain how Paul, 44, got himself caught up in such a mess. The judge said it was difficult to understand "how you allowed yourself to pervert the religion that you supposedly follow."

Paul's attorney, Jim Gilbert, declined to comment after the hearing.

Paul, an Islamic convert, pleaded guilty in June to one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction in terrorist attacks.

He was accused of joining al-Qaida in the early 1990s and helping teach fellow Muslim extremists how to bomb U.S. and European targets. Prosecutors agreed to drop charges of providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to provide support to terrorists.

Paul was one of three men who the Justice Department accused of discussing terrorist attacks during an August 2002 meeting at the Caribou Cafe coffee shop in Upper Arlington.

The other two also pleaded guilty, but the government hasn't said whether the case is now considered closed. Iyman Faris was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleaded guilty in 2003 in an alleged plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge. Nuradin Abdi was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2007 after pleading guilty in an alleged plot to blow up an Ohio shopping mall.

Recruiting for holy warriors group
Paul grew up in the Columbus suburb of Worthington. He was one of a handful of blacks at his high school, where he competed in gymnastics and was known as a friendly student who was never in trouble.

He spent a year at Ohio State University as an engineering major, then embarked on a sinister career, according to the government.

An FBI statement read at Paul's plea hearing said Paul joined al-Qaida after traveling to Afghanistan in the early 1990s and fought alongside mujahadeen battling Afghanistan's post-Soviet Marxist government.

The FBI said Paul also tried to recruit other individuals in Columbus to join a holy warrior group. He was also accused of training members of an alleged terrorist cell in Germany, knowing the group was plotting to bomb American tourists and overseas U.S. facilities.

The government didn't say if any attacks were carried out.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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