Image: Hosam Maher Smadi
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A sentencing hearing for Hosam Maher Smadi begins Monday in federal court in Dallas.
updated 10/18/2010 2:10:28 PM ET 2010-10-18T18:10:28

A 20-year-old Jordanian man caught in an FBI sting trying to blow up a Dallas skyscraper was depressed and slept by his mother's grave after her death from cancer four years ago, his father testified Monday during a sentencing hearing.

Hosam Smadi faces up to life in prison after pleading guilty in May to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. Under his plea agreement, however, it is likely he will receive a 30-year sentence and then face deportation. The hearing before U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn continued Monday afternoon.

Smadi's father, 60-year-old Maher Smadi, said the then-16-year-old son tried to revive his mother even after doctors in Jordan pronounced her dead in October 2006. The father said his son also stopped eating after the woman's death from brain cancer.

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"Hosam was very affected by his mother's illness and stayed with her at the hospital all the time," said Maher Smadi, testifying in Arabic through an interpreter.

The father said he sent Hosam Smadi to the U.S. in March 2007 because their relationship was strained and he wanted the teenager to get an education and "start a new life." The elder Smadi frequently said his son wasn't very religious or politically motivated.

Maher Smadi said he visited his son in the San Jose, Calif., area less than a year later and was upset to find Hosam Smadi smoking, drinking and cursing Islam. The son moved to the Dallas area a short time later. The father acknowledged that his son was a terrorist and said he was embarrassed. He asked prosecutors for leniency.

"I am sure that if he leaves prison now, he would learn from his mistakes and be a good person and get away from bad influences," Maher Smadi testified.

According to the plea documents, the younger Smadi acknowledged leaving what he thought was a truck bomb in a garage beneath the 60-story Fountain Place building in September 2009. Smadi said he parked the truck, started a timer connected to the decoy provided by undercover FBI agents, then rode away to watch the explosion.

Smadi dialed a cell phone number from the roof of a nearby parking garage, where he had planned to watch the explosion. The number was supposed to set off his truck bomb. It instead alerted tactical agents hiding in a stairwell, who swarmed the rooftop and arrested the teenager.

Posing as members of an al-Qaida sleeper cell, three undercover FBI employees had monitored Smadi since January 2009. After he shared his plans to blow up the office tower, they helped him secure a truck and fake bomb used to carry out the mission, according to court documents.

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Since the arrest, Smadi's public defenders have portrayed their client as a troubled and depressed young man, who exhibited signs of depression and mental illness when his parents separated. At the plea hearing in May, attorney Peter Fleury said Smadi had been diagnosed with schizophrenia by a prison doctor and a physician working for the defense.

FBI officials, however, tell a different story. After monitoring Smadi for nine months, they say the defendant was a committed would-be terrorist determined to connect with al-Qaida or Hamas. It was fortunate, they say, that they found him first, spewing hatred for America on an extremist website.

"Smadi was asked what he would do if he had never met the al-Qaida 'sleeper' cell," said Tom Petrowski, a supervisory special agent with the FBI in Dallas, in an affidavit. "Smadi replied that he would keep looking for such an entity to be a part of, even if it meant him having to leave the United States and go to Palestine and join Hamas or go back to Pakistan and join the Taliban."

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