updated 6/15/2004 6:17:03 PM ET 2004-06-15T22:17:03

A Maryland man convicted of traveling to Pakistan and seeking to fight with the Taliban against the United States just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison.

Masoud Khan was one of three people sentenced Tuesday on charges they trained for holy war against the United States by playing paintball games in the Virginia woods as part of a “jihad” network. Prosecutors said Khan’s actions were worse than the other suspects because he also traveled overseas to train with a Pakistani militant group after Sept. 11.

“While the Pentagon is still smoking, Mr. Khan decided now is the time to fight against Americans in Afghanistan. He deserves every day he gets,” prosecutor Gordon Kromberg said.

A second suspect, Seifullah Chapman, was sentenced to 85 years in prison, and a third, Hammad Abdur-Raheem, was given eight years.

Khan said before he was sentenced that he was innocent and that he was prosecuted only because he is Muslim.

“To put it bluntly ... had I been a Zionist Jew or a Christian training to fight [in Palestine], I would never have been charged with violating the Neutrality Act,” he said, referring to the seldom-used U.S. law that formed the basis for the government’s conspiracy charges.

Mandatory sentences at work
The lengthy terms for Khan and Chapman resulted largely from mandatory minimum sentences stemming from firearms convictions related to the conspiracy.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said the sentences were “draconian,” but she had no choice but to impose them under federal law.

“We have murderers who get far less time,” she said. “I’ve sent al-Qaida members planning attacks on these shores to less time. This is sticking in my craw. Law and justice at times need to be in tune.”

In all, the government charged 11 men arrested as part of the “Virginia jihad” network, and six entered into plea bargains, receiving prison terms ranging from four to 20 years. Two were acquitted of all charges.

Convicted of conspiracy
Khan, of Gaithersburg, Md., was convicted of the most serious charges, including conspiracy to levy war against the United States and conspiracy to contribute services to the Taliban.

The militant group he trained with was called Lashkar-e-Taiba, which espoused anti-American and anti-Indian rhetoric and was later designated a terrorist group by the United States.

Chapman, of Alexandria, admitted attending the camp in August 2001 but said he did so to train for a grueling physical challenge in the rugged Pakistani mountains.

Abdur-Raheem, of Falls Church, never traveled to Pakistan but was convicted for his role training other conspirators in military tactics in 2000 and 2001 in paintball games.

The defendants said the paintball games were innocent fun and fellowship among friends.

All three are native U.S. citizens in their 30s.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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