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A United States federal judge on Friday sentenced to life in prison a Trinidadian man who was convicted of plotting to blow up fuel tanks at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York four years ago.
“No one can doubt the seriousness of this crime,” said Judge Dora L. Irizarry of US Federal District Court in Brooklyn, New York, who compared the bomb plot to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States as she handed down the maximum sentence to Kareem Ibrahim, 66.
Ibrahim was one of four men accused in 2007 in what US federal authorities said was a plot to cause a chain reaction along a pipeline that would damage vast areas of New York City.
Prosecutors presented evidence at trial that Ibrahim, an Imam and a Muslim leader in Trinidad, had provided operational support to the group plotting the attack.
Ibrahim was extradited from Trinidad and Tobago for the trial.
Prosecutors said crucial evidence came from a convicted drug dealer and paid informer who contributed financial and logistical support to the plotters and secretly recorded their conversations.
Two of the conspirators, Russell M. Defreitas, a Guyanese immigrant and former cargo handler at the airport who prosecutors said conceived the plan, and Abdul Kadir, a former member of the Guyana parliament, were convicted in 2010 and were also sentenced to life imprisonment.
Another Guyanese national, Abdel Nur, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Ibrahim waived his right to make a statement during the sentencing hearing on Friday. When the sentence was announced, he remained calm as one of his relatives in the courtroom told him to stay strong.
Ibrahim’s lawyers said they planned to file an appeal on his behalf.
“Kareem Ibrahim abandoned the true tenets of his religion and plotted to commit a terrorist attack that he hoped would rival 9/11,” said Loretta E. Lynch, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “But law enforcement detected and thwarted the plot, saving lives.”
Assistant US Attorney Marshall Miller told Judge Dora L. Irizarry that if the plot had not been thwarted by the Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI), the group might have launched “a potentially devastating terrorist attack” and “would have caused catastrophic harm - both personal, in terms of lives, and economic damage.”
The group's “stated goal was to take out all of Queens (New York). This was a dangerous situation,” Miller said.
But defence attorney Michael Hueston stressed that while Ibrahim served as a Muslim cleric, he bore no ill will to those of other faiths.
He said Ibrahim's open-mindedness was evidenced by his “interfaith marriages” - he had been divorced several times - and he has “children who are Christians.”
Hueston told the judge there is a “dramatic difference” between Ibrahim and cold-blooded fanatics who are intent on killing untold number of innocents.
“He is not on equal footing with any hardened terrorist,” Hueston said.
But Judge Irizarry rejected that claim.
“Mr. Ibrahim is a smart man. I think he understood exactly what he was getting into,” she said.
In the months leading up to his trial last year, US federal prison hospital doctors testified that Ibrahim was deeply depressed and was refusing to eat.
They said they put him on a diet of 40 milligrams of Prozac and eight bottles of Boost energy drink a day.
The doctors said Ibrahim was suffering from “self-inflicted starvation and dehydration,” suggesting that “electroconvulsive therapy” - also known as electroshock therapy - might be a helpful treatment.