Shahawar Matin Siraj was either a naive stooge lured into a phony bomb plot or a homegrown terrorist determined to inflict misery on New Yorkers as revenge for wartime abuses of Iraqis.
Lawyers for Siraj — convicted of conspiring to blow up one of the city’s busiest subway stations — and prosecutors painted the conflicting portraits recently in court papers in advance of his sentencing Monday in federal court.
Defense attorneys have sought to convince a judge that Siraj’s sentence should not exceed 10 years since the attack never came close to being carried out.
Siraj, a 21-year-old high school dropout at the time of his August 2004 arrest, “is not a dangerous psychopath, but more of a confused and misguided youngster,” the defense team argued in its papers.
Prosecutors countered that the Pakistani immigrant deserves at least 30 years — and possibly life — behind bars for creating a “workable terrorist plot” to set off explosives beneath Herald Square, the busy shopping district that includes Macy’s flagship department store.
“The offense was the brainchild and handiwork of the defendant,” prosecutors said in court documents.
Siraj and another man, James Elshafay, were arrested on the eve of the Republican National Convention carrying crude diagrams of Herald Square. Elshafay immediately agreed to cooperate with the government. He has pleaded guilty, but his sentencing has not been set.
Authorities said Siraj had no affiliation with known terrorist organizations. Instead, he was a relative loner whose anti-American rants caught the attention of a police informant, Osama Eldawoody, and an undercover officer. Police had assigned Eldawoody, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Egypt, to identify and track Islamic extremists in Muslim neighborhoods after Sept. 11.
While wearing a microphone and assuming the role of an accomplice, Eldawoody assured Siraj that any plan he concocted would have the backing of a fictitious faction called The Brotherhood.
Siraj testified at his trial last year that the 50-year-old Eldawoody became a mentor and told him there was a fatwa, or religious edict, permitting the killing of U.S. soldiers and law enforcement agents. Eldawoody talked about “blowing up the buildings and blowing up the Wall Street places,” Siraj said.
Siraj admitted taking steps to attack the subway station, but said he did so only after Eldawoody inflamed him by showing him photos of prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Siraj has expressed regret, according to the recent papers filed by the defense.
“I feel really, really bad and apologize to everybody,” he told a psychologist. “I was just foolish, just angry.”