Canadian gets life for plot to blow up embassies in Singapore, Philippines
NEW YORK - A Kuwaiti-born Canadian who briefly became an informant against top al-Qaida leaders was sentenced to life in prison Friday for plotting to blow up U.S. and Israeli embassies in Singapore and the Philippines.
A federal judge in Manhattan imposed the sentence after listening to one-time al-Qaida operative Mohammed Mansour Jabarah deliver a 20-minute speech, in which he blamed his past on brainwashing by evil men who exploited his youth and naivete.
"I am not a ruthless, infamous and notorious terrorist," said Jabarah, who was 19 when he was captured in Oman following the collapse of his bombing plot.
"I do not believe in terrorism, violence and killing."
U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones said she gave Jabarah credit for his repudiation of violence, but said she couldn't overlook what he had done.
"Actions speak louder than words," she said.
Jabarah has been in U.S. custody since 2002, when he was turned over to the FBI by Canada's intelligence service and secretly pleaded guilty to terrorism charges as part of a short-lived plea bargain.
For a time, he was a valuable resource in the hunt for al-Qaida leaders.
During the months of his co-operation with the FBI, Jabarah gave investigators information about Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, described his personal meetings with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, and detailed his interactions with several other high ranking al-Qaida lieutenants.
He also described his own involvement in a terrorist plot.
After graduating from high school in Canada, where he had lived since a move from Kuwait at age 12, Jabarah slipped into Afghanistan and trained at al-Qaida camps in 2001. Prosecutors said he became a protege of Mohammed and was preparing his first major operations - bomb attacks on American and Israeli embassies in Manila and Singapore.
"This is far from a half-baked plot," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Rodgers, noting that tonnes of explosives had already been purchased and a suicide bomber selected when the scheme was foiled by a round of arrests.
"Mr. Jabarah is the real deal," Rodgers said.
Jabarah's family had settled in St. Cathaines, Ont., when they immigrated to Canada.
Sallah Hamdani, a spokesperson for the Islamic Society of St. Catharines, doesn't think the verdict will negatively affect his community.
"People who have a negative feeling towards Islam will still have a negative feeling towards Islam. And people who actually took the time to learn about Islam will not change their opinion because of this verdict," Hamdani said.
After his capture by Oman's intelligence service, Jabarah was brought to Canada where he was interrogated and told he had two choices: go to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo, or switch sides and inform on his terrorist mentors.
Jabarah chose the latter, and by July 2002 he had pleaded guilty in a closed court session and moved into a series of FBI safe houses in the United States, where he lived in relative comfort, with a stereo and his own kitchen.
His work as an informant, however, ended after just a few months when FBI agents searching his quarters discovered jihadist writings, a knife and rope hidden in his luggage, and instructions on how to make explosives.
They also found a list bearing the initials of U.S. agents and prosecutors. Investigators claimed it was a list of people Jabarah intended to murder.
Jabarah was immediately transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where he lived in solitary confinement for four years.
In court on Friday, his lawyer, Kenneth Paul, told the judge that it was all a misunderstanding.
The knife, he said, was for personal protection due to death threats received by his family. The extremist writings were just notes taken on terrorist videos that he had been asked to watch as part of the investigation.
"It's just ridiculous," Paul said of the allegation that Jabarah was compiling a death list.
He didn't c omment in detail on the other writings in which his client appeared to express disgust with America and muse on how he might return to terrorism if he were ever freed.
An attempt to re-enlist Jabarah as an informant failed in 2006.
Both sides agreed that, by then, he had soured on American law enforcement and was unwilling to cut a new deal.
"He could have been a great co-operating witness," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Raskin said during the court hearing.
He said Jabarah knew enough to build indictments against several terrorist leaders, but instead chose to remain loyal to bin Laden.
Sitting before the judge Friday, Jabarah said he was a changed man. He asked that he be released from prison immediately so he could go to college, become an ophthalmologist and spend the rest of his life with his family.
He said he was "brainwashed" by people he thought were liberators of an oppressed people.
"They were nothing more than terrorists," he said, and he deplored their killings as "absolutely disgusting, sickening and perverted."
Jones told Jabarah she would have found his statements more compelling if he had agreed to resume his co-operation with the U.S. government.
Jabarah immigrated to Canada from Kuwait in 1994 with his family when he was 12.
The Jabarah family - parents, three sons and a cousin - wanted to build a better life in St. Catharines, Ont., said the father, Mansour Jabarah, in an earlier interview.
Before he could graduate from Holy Cross Secondary School, a Roman Catholic high school in the southwestern Ontario city, Jabarah and his older bother were sent for religious study in the Middle East. Jabarah was 17 at the time.
The elder Jabarah said his son had aspirations to be a doctor at the time.
Jabarah's older brother, Abdoul Rahman Jabarah, wanted for a deadly 2003 bomb attack in Riyadh, was killed by Saudi Arabian forces days after the bombing.
After Jabarah was arrested, his father said his son is innocent and American authorities had told Jabarah they would release him if he pleaded guilty.
"They made him plead guilty," the patriarch said at the time.
Jabarah was taken from Oman by Canadian intelligence officials.
The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service said Jabarah travelled to the United States voluntarily with its help, but questions have been raised about it. The Canadian Arab Federation and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association called on the government to explain and justify CSIS's role in the incident.
Bill Graham, foreign affairs minister at the time, said he was "fully satisfied" that CSIS handled the case properly.
- With files from The Canadian Press.