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updated 1/27/2011 2:46:52 PM ET 2011-01-27T19:46:52

A federal judge on Thursday knocked more than 100 years off the sentence of the first man convicted under a key terror-fighting legal strategy, giving him the chance to get out of prison during his lifetime.

Judge Graham Mullen ruled that Mohamad Hammoud will spend another 20 years in prison for raising funds for the militant group Hezbollah. He was originally sentenced to 155 years in prison after he was found guilty of providing material support to a terrorist organization.

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Mullen, who had imposed the original sentence in 2003, said such a long prison term now appears "grossly disproportionate" in light of changes in how the terror-support law has been applied since then.

Hammoud had been awaiting resentencing since a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that determined that federal sentencing guidelines are advisory, not mandatory.

Hammoud was charged months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the next year he became the first person found guilty under a 1996 law that makes it illegal to give money to designated terror groups. Prosecuting suspects under that law has since become a key tactic in the war on terror.

Hammoud's lawyers argued this week that he should be released after already spending nearly a decade in prison. They contended their 37-year-old client had served enough time because he didn't send money to support the military activities of Hezbollah, which has a separate wing that provides social services.

A former CIA agent they called to the stand testified that the two wings are distinct and that the militant side gets its money from Iran, not from the donations of individual supporters.

"There's no guns, there's no bombs, there's no military equipment," attorney Stanley Cohen argued. "There's no maps, there's no last-minute plot stopped."

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Prosecutors, though, wanted the original sentence upheld. They argued that Hammoud was caught early, and that he may have planned more destructive operations for the future.

In court, Hammoud apologized for his deeds.

"Your honor, I made a huge mistake. I betrayed a country that gave me a lot," he said.

Mullen initially resentenced Hammoud on Thursday to a total of 35 years but calcuated the sentence incorrectly. He brought the defendant back in the courtroom and reduced it to 30 years.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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