Judge imposes maximum 15-year prison sentences for Alabama-hatched terrorism plot
Photo: A federal judge in Mobile, Alabama, on Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, sentenced Randy “Rasheed” Wilson, left, and Mohammad Abdul Rahman Abukhdair to 15 years in prison for plotting to wage violent jihad abroad.
MOBILE, Alabama – Citing a lack of remorse and a failure to renounce their intentions to commit violent jihad abroad, a federal judge Friday sentenced a pair of silent men to the maximum punishment for a plot hatched in Alabama.
Randy “Rasheed” Wilson and Mohammad Abdul Rahman Abukhdair, both 26, will spend 15 years in prison for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and then will be supervised by the U.S. Probation Office for three years.
U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose said she read hundreds of pages of recorded conversations and intercepted emails from the defendants and searched for evidence that they were “just talking a big game.” And, she added that she had reserved judgment, hoping they would renounce their intentions.
“Unfortunately, there is no other reasonable conclusion that (their conversations) were for the primary purpose of committing violent jihad,” she said. “I don’t have to speculate about that.”
At one point, prosecutors had asked for two days for the sentencing hearing. In the end, the lawyers did most of their arguing through written submissions to the court, and the hearing was over in less than half an hour.
Each defendant rose individually to hear his sentence. Neither said a word or expressed any emotion. Wilson, sporting a longer beard than the one he had when authorities arrested him at the Atlanta airport last year, gave a slight smirk toward his family as federal marshals led him out of the courtroom. His relatives declined to comment after the hearing.
Federal law enforcement officials welcomed the judge’s decision.
“The United States remains vigilant and will continue to investigate individuals who take action to materially support terrorist organizations around the world,” U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown said in a prepared statement. “Those who materially support the violence of terror groups will be brought to justice.”
Stephen Richardson, the special agent in charge of the FBI office in Mobile said in his own statement: “This terrorism investigation sends a resounding message to all those individuals who wish to participate in terrorism acts and cause us harm that our resolve to both pursue them and protect the American people from the violent threats they pose is unwavering.”
According to prosecutors, Abukhdair moved from his home in Syracuse, N.Y., to Egypt and struck up an online friendship with Wilson in 2010 centered on their extremist views of Islam. Wilson, a convert to the religion, is from Mobile and spent time in Birmingham as a child before returning home. He converted after his mother married a Muslim. He, himself, is married to a convert and has two young children.
Abukhdair moved to Mobile after Egyptian authorities arrested and deported him. The two spent months discussing the best country to move to in order to defend Islam, according to court records. They then tried to board a plane for Africa.
The FBI began monitoring them in 2011, using a pair of undercover agents posing as a married Muslim couple who had just moved to Mobile. The male agent approached Wilson at the car lot where he was working at the time. A “confidential human source” – someone who knew Wilson from the Mobile area – also fed information to investigators.
After considering a large number of countries, Wilson and Abukhdair settled on a plan to move to the African nation of Mauritania, where they would be well-positioned to join an Islamic uprising in neighboring Mali, according to court records.
Rick Yelverton, a court-appointed attorney for Abukhdair, said his client had asked that he not put up a defense. “He’s a kind person,” Yelverton told the judge. “And I’m saying this on my own without his permission.”
Attorney Dom Soto, who represented Wilson, noted that authorities had stationed sharpshooters near the courthouse and taken other extraordinary security measures Friday.
“There’s a lot of external stuff driving this, as opposed to this young man from DIP (Dauphin Island Parkway),” he said.
Soto focused his argument on what his client did not do. Unlike others convicted of terrorism charges in the United States, he said, Wilson did not go to a terrorism training camp, try to acquire weapons, reveal sensitive information or make contact with a terrorism organization.
The prosecution’s entire case, Soto said, boils down to “speculative” and “vague” jihad intentions.
“I’d ask you to look at who he is and not what the (advisory sentencing) guidelines say. … It’s important that you punish Randy Wilson and not Osama bin Laden,” he said.
DuBose pointed out that Wilson and Abukhdair discussed their hatred of America, wished for the death of Americans and expressed admiration of bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks.
But that, DuBose said, is not a crime. The crime involved a sophisticated plan to move to a foreign country and wage violent jihad, she said. It was a plan they started to put in place when they bought plane tickets and tried to leave the country, she added.
DuBose said she believes the likelihood of recidivism is high due to the defendants’ refusal to renounce those plans.
“For these reasons, I feel the harsh sentence of 15 years is justified in both cases,” she said.
The defendants have 14 days to file a notice of appeal, but they signed away most of those rights when they agreed to plead guilty. The only avenue for appeal is to argue ineffective assistance of their lawyers.
Updated at 12:54 p.m. with comments from U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown and FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Richardson.