‘Turned his back on America’
Former Winnipeg student gets 45 years for Afghan bomb attack
Former University of Manitoba student Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh, convicted by a jury last September of conspiring to kill American soldiers in a bomb plot, tried to convince a federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., Tuesday that he was now opposed to violence.
“Violence — especially when it is inspired by religion — is foreign to everything I believe in,” he wrote in a letter read aloud by his lawyer.
But U. S. federal prosecutor Richard Tucker told the court that al Farekh, 32, a U. S. citizen born in Houston, Texas, was “unshakably committed” to violent jihad and should be sentenced to life in prison, Reuters reported.
Faced with these competing arguments, U. S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan handed down a sentence of 45 years, saying that while al Farekh did not appear to have fully accepted responsibility, neither was he “totally devoid of humanity.”
Following the court hearing, Richard Donoghue, the U. S. attorney for the eastern district of New York, said in a statement that al Farekh had “turned his back on America by joining al- Qaida and trying to kill American soldiers in a bomb attack on a U. S. military base in Afghanistan.”
“This case demonstrates that we will do everything in our power to ensure that those who seek to harm our country and our armed forces will be brought to justice.”
David Ruhnke, al Farekh’s lawyer, said he intended to file an appeal in a case that drew notoriety, in part, because of reports that American officials had initially debated whether to try to kill al Farekh in a drone strike, a step almost never taken against U.S. citizens.
President Barack Obama’s administration ultimately decided to try for a capture and civilian prosecution instead.
Court documents state that al Farekh and two co- conspirators, all of whom were studying at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, left Canada in March 2007 for Pakistan with the aim of fighting American forces.
Before departing, they watched videos encouraging violent jihad and listened to online lectures by Anwar al- Awlaqi, the now- deceased leader of al- Qaida in the Arab Peninsula. Witnesses overheard them say “God bless their souls” — an apparent ref- erence to jihadist martyrs, according to court records.
The trio sold their belongings and disconnected their cellphones. Al Farekh did not give his grandmother, with whom he had been living, any notice he was leaving the country.
Once in Pakistan, the trio travelled to the north where they received training from al- Qaida.
In January 2009, two vehicles approached the fence line at the U. S. military’s Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. According to prosecutors, the driver of the first vehicle detonated an improvised explosive device, injuring one U. S. serviceman and numerous Afghan nationals, including a pregnant woman.
The second vehicle — carrying 7,500 pounds of explosives — became stuck in a blast crater caused by the first explosion. The driver tried to flee but was shot and killed. Forensic investigators later found 18 latent fingerprints matching al Farekh on adhesive tape used to bind together the undetonated explosives, prosecutors said.
Al Farekh was captured in Pakistan and brought to the U.S. in 2015. He was subsequently found guilty last fall of numerous offences, including conspiracy to murder American military personnel, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, conspiracy to bomb a government facility and providing material support to al- Qaida.
In 2011, the RCMP announced that al Farekh’s two travelling companions — Ferid Ahmed Imam and Maiwand Yar, both Canadian citizens — had been charged with terroristrelated activities.
At the time, the RCMP said Imam, a former biochemistry student, had travelled to Pakistan and had become a weapons instructor at a terrorist training camp aligned with al- Qaida. Meanwhile, Yar, a former mechanical engineering student, had told people he and Imam intended to ally themselves with the Taliban so they could kill NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, Mounties said. Their whereabouts is not known. In his letter presented in court Tuesday, al Farekh said while he did not believe in violence, “I do understand how Muslims could be drawn into jihad and violence.”
“Hearing daily reports of innocent casualties and invading armies, and urged on by respected figure (sic) in our community, it is possible to understand how a young Muslim might be lead onto a path that he or she, if lucky enough to have survived, regrets deeply. It is my view that following such a path is risky, foolhardy, and most fundamentally wrong.”
Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh travelled from Canada to Pakistan to train with al- Qaida. He was convicted of conspiring to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.