‘Turned his back on Amer­ica’

For­mer Win­nipeg stu­dent gets 45 years for Afghan bomb at­tack

National Post (Latest Edition) - - CANADA - DOU­GLAS QUAN

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.


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