Former Sailor Sentenced for Trying to Help Terrorists Carry Out Attack Similar to USS Cole Bombing
April 3, 2009 - 3:11 PMA former Navy sailor convicted of leaking details about ship movements and the best ways to attack them was sentenced Friday to the maximum 10 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz said Hassan Abu-Jihaad, of Phoenix, betrayed his country and endangered his fellow sailors.
"I cannot really overstate the seriousness of this crime," Kravitz said. The leak "does constitute a fundamental betrayal of your country and of your oath. You endangered your colleagues, you endangered your vessel and other vessels and other sailors, and you endangered your country."
Abu-Jihaad, 33, was convicted last year of disclosing classified national defense information. Prosecutors labeled him a traitor who was trying to help foreign terrorists replicate the bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors.
Abu-Jihaad, an American who is formerly known as Paul Hall and whose chosen Muslim name means "father of jihad," was a signalman aboard the USS Benfold who was honorably discharged from the Navy in 2002.
He was accused of posting information to a Web site in London that openly espoused violent jihad against the U.S. The information included the makeup of his Navy battle group and a drawing of the formation the group would use to pass through the dangerous Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf in April 2001.
The ship was not attacked.
Abu-Jihaad did not speak during Friday's hearing. His attorney, Dan LaBelle, said his client maintained his innocence and appreciated the fairness of the court.
He said his client's demeanor in court has been "very remarkable."
Prosecutor William Nardini encouraged Kravitz to consider Abu-Jihaad's actions, not his demeanor in court. He said the former sailor praised the Cole bombing as an operation carried out by martyrs.
"That is a twisted view of the world," Nardini said.
Abu-Jihaad believed engaging in a fight against his own country would make him a martyr, Nardini said.
"His alliances are not with America but with the American enemies" Nardini said. "He embraced those enemies. When he did that he betrayed his oath, he betrayed his security clearance and he betrayed his country."
Kravitz said Abu-Jihaad's sentence should be a deterrent for anyone who supports terrorism.
"We happen to be engaged in a very different struggle right now," Kravitz said. "It's really a struggle about the fundamentals of freedom. That struggle will go on for quite some time and we need to ensure the people that are part of that struggle on our end uphold the oath and protect classified information from getting into the hands of those who stand opposed to those concepts of freedom."
Abu-Jihaad was also convicted on a charge of providing material support to terrorists, but Kravitz overturned the conviction last month, citing the language of the law.
Prosecutors are considering whether to appeal Kravitz's ruling throwing out the terrorism support charge, said acting U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy.
"A harsher sentence would seem reasonable but the judge was constrained by the statute in this case," Dannehy said.
Abu-Jihaad's leak came just months after the 2000 USS Cole bombing, prosecutors noted.
Prosecutors say investigators discovered files on a computer disk recovered from a suspected terrorist supporter's home in London that included the ship movements, as well as the number and type of personnel on each ship and the ships' capabilities.
Abu-Jihaad was charged in the same case that led to the 2004 arrest of Babar Ahmad, a British computer specialist accused of running Web sites to raise money, appeal for fighters and provide equipment such as gas masks and night vision goggles for terrorists.
Ahmad lived with his parents, where the computer file was allegedly found, and was arrested in London, and is to be extradited to the U.S.
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