Three men convicted of plotting to recruit and train terrorists to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq were sentenced in federal court Wednesday to more than eight years in prison.
Mohammad Amawi, 29, received a 20-year term, with credit for three years he has already spent in custody. He will remain under lifetime supervision upon his release, U.S. District Judge James Carr said. Marwan El-Hindi, 46, described by prosecutors as the leader, was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and given an 18-month consecutive term on an unrelated fraud conviction.
Both men had faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
"This isn't a capital 'T' terrorism case," Carr said.
The third man, Wassim Mazloum, 27, was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison.
But the judge said he hoped the sentences send a message to anyone who is tempted to even talk about harming American soldiers.
Amawi and El-Hindi are U.S. citizens. Mazloum came to the U.S. legally from Lebanon. El-Hindi was born in Jordan. Amawi was born in the U.S. but also has Jordanian citizenship.
Amawi, El-Hindi and Mazloum met in Toledo about five years ago and began plotting and training to help insurgents in Iraq, the FBI said during their trial last year.
But defense lawyers argued that their clients were set up by an undercover FBI informant.
Wednesday, the judge said that while the informant played a huge role in the case, his actions did not amount to entrapment. Carr said Amawi could have backed out, but instead talked about plans to help the insurgency in Iraq and watched jihadist videos.
Talk of killing troops isn't protected by free speech, the judge said, and is not just "idle chatter or fantasy."
Prosecutors described El-Hindi as the leader among the three.
"His role was to recruit, encourage and facilitate his proteges," federal prosecutor Thomas Getz said.
An attorney for El-Hindi, who has lived in the United States for 25 years, said his client never took any action toward harming U.S. soldiers. And El-Hindi said his only mistake was speaking with a man who turned out to be a government informant.
"I became American by choice. I love this country more than any country in the world," El-Hindi said. "If I disagree with the government, that does not mean I want any harm to this country."
The judge determined that El-Hindi tried to recruit two Chicago-area cousins into the group's plot.
After the judge first sentenced Amawi, defense attorney Edward Bryan said Carr was courageous given that the government wanted the maximum punishment for his client. Bryan said Amawi's interest in learning how to shoot guns and defend himself was based on a desire to protect himself and his family. He said the case against Amawi was conceived, contrived and concocted by the government.
Lawyers for all three defendants say their clients were manipulated by the prosecution's star witness, Darren Griffin.
The undercover FBI informant and former Army Special Forces soldier recorded the men for about two years beginning in 2004 while they talked about training in explosives, guns, and sniper tactics. They often met in their homes and at a tiny storefront mosque where they prayed together.
Defense attorneys noted that Griffin was involved in all the recorded conversations presented to the jury, and said the government provided no evidence of telephone conversations or e-mails dealing with the alleged plot among only the defendants.
Griffin said most people at the mosque shunned him and no one raised any threats until El-Hindi began talking about kidnapping Israeli soldiers. Amawi, Griffin said, asked him to help train two recruits from Chicago for holy war.
Griffin testified that he twice traveled to Jordan with Amawi and also taught Amawi and Mazloum how to shoot guns.
Amawi, El-Hindi and Mazloum were convicted of conspiring to kill or maim people outside the United States, including military personnel. Amawi and El-Hindi were convicted of distributing information regarding explosives to terrorists.