Pakistani Jailed in NYC Terror Case

New York: A federal judge last Monday sentenced a Pakistani immigrant to 30 years in prison for conspiring to place explosive devices in a subway station in retaliation against abuses of Muslims at the hands of Americans, according to local media.
The target was the busy 34th Street Subway Station in New York City. The conspiracy occurred in 2004 just before the Republican Convention was held in Manhattan at nearby Madison Square Garden, the United States Justice Department said. The defendant, Shahawar Matin Siraj, 24, was convicted after a five-week trial.
Also implicated was James Elshafay, who pleaded guilty in Oct 2004 and testified against Siraj at his trial. Elshafay's sentencing date has not been set, the Department said, adding that the prosecution used hours of taped conversation between Siraj and Osama Eldawoody, an Egyptian nuclear engineer who became a paid informant for the NY Police Department.
On the tapes, Siraj said he hated the US and wanted to place explosives on bridges and subway stations in NY, including the 34th Street Station.
Elshafay and Siraj actually inspected the station in August 2004 and drew up diagrams to help them place a bomb, the Department said, but did not possess any explosive material when arrested.
The 30-year sentence, which Siraj's lawyer called "outrageous", was handed down after Siraj apologized to the judge and prosecutors but blamed the police informer for his fate.
The defendant, who has been held without bail since his arrest on August 27, 2004, stood before the judge, Nina Gershon of US District Court in Brooklyn, when she pronounced the sentence.
Siraj said the statements he had made about his plan to blow up the subway and his anger at America, were secretly recorded by the Police Department informer who defense lawyers argued lured him into the plot. The tapes were played at the trial.
"Your honor I want to apologize about whatever I said in the tapes - I wish I could take those words back but it already happened, I already said those things," Siraj said. "I'm taking responsibility for 34th Street, but I was manipulated by this person."
But the jury in the case rejected his entrapment defense. It had centered on the paid informer, who, according to defense lawyers, had stoked Siraj's rage with images of Muslims abused at the hands of Americans.
Judge Gershon, handing down the sentence, noted that while some of the recordings captured Siraj saying the attack should occur at the time the station was the least busy, it would nonetheless have been deadly.
"The crimes committed here were extremely serious," she said, adding, "They had the potential, if not thwarted, to wreak havoc with the NYC transportation system, indeed, the tri-state-area transportation system."
But Siraj never obtained explosives, there was no timetable for an attack, and the men were not linked to any known terrorist group.
Indeed, the informer, Eldawoody told Siraj and Elshafay that he worked for a fictitious group called the Brotherhood and said he would be able to provide the explosives for the plot. Elshafay began cooperating with prosecutors shortly after his arrest and also testified against Siraj.
He had turned down a plea deal offered by prosecutors under which he would have been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
On Monday, the courtroom was crowded, largely with news reporters and law enforcement officials, as well as with Siarj's parents and uncle, according to media reports.
After the proceeding, his mother began to cry as she sat on a bench outside the courtroom. Later, she spoke briefly to reporters, maintaining her son's innocence and saying he would appeal.
"The NYPD, through a paid informant, tricked my son and got him stuck in this," she said, as Wahid translated. "He didn't do anything. I didn't get any justice. It was not a fair sentence."
But the Police Department, which investigated the case, the first in which a terrorism inquiry by its Intelligence Division led to a prosecution in federal court, hailed the sentence, calling it "a milestone in the safeguarding of NYC."
After the sentencing, Siraj's lead lawyer, Martin Stolar, called the prison term "outrageous."
"The NYCPD was able to create a crime in order to solve it, and claim a victory in the war on terror, and that's what he was sentenced as, rather than a dimwit who was manipulated," he said.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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