NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A British citizen was sentenced Wednesday to more than 12 years in prison by a judge who said he supported the Taliban regime in Afghanistan while it was protecting Osama bin Laden.
Judge Janet Hall sentenced Babar Ahmad to 12 years and six months but gave him credit for the 10 years he already served. Hall said Ahmad helped enable bin Laden to be protected when he was plotting the Sept. 11 attacks by supporting the Taliban. But she said Ahmad had no knowledge of the plot and there was no evidence he supported bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist group.
“You can’t walk away from the fact that what you were doing was enabling bin Laden to be protected in Afghanistan and to train the men who actually boarded the flights that drove into the Pentagon and World Trade Center,” Hall said.
She imposed a much lower sentence that the 25 years sought by prosecutors, rejecting their claim that he posed a high risk of recidivism. She also rejected testimony from a government cooperating witness that Ahmad had traveled to Afghanistan.
The case did not involve participation in acts of terrorism, and Ahmad showed no interest in doing so even after receiving a document detailing the movements and vulnerabilities of a U.S. Navy battle group, Hall said.
Ahmad pleaded guilty in December to supporting terrorists through websites that sought to raise cash, recruit fighters and solicit items such as gas masks for the Taliban.
Ahmad’s attorney has said he publicly condemned the Sept. 11 attacks and deeply regrets his support for the Taliban. Ahmad says he tried to help Muslims under attack in Bosnia and Chechnya, recalling atrocities he learned about while in Bosnia.
Hall and a prosecutor said his support for the Taliban continued after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ahmad told the judge he supported the Taliban because it was under attack, not because he supported bin Laden or Al-Qaida. He said he was stupid to believe bin Laden’s denials of involvement in earlier terrorist acts.
He said he has read books about pacifist leader Mohandas K. Gandhi, also known as Mahatma Gandhi, and others while in prison and that talks can resolve differences.
“Not every conflict in the world is Bosnia,” Ahmad said. “The world is complicated.”
U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly called it a significant sentence.
“We say that this is a warning to all those that support terrorism that the government will not stop at making sure that people who support terrorism will be stopped and brought to justice,” Daly said.
A co-defendant, Syed Talha Ahsan, was sentenced Wednesday to time already served of about eight years. Prosecutors say Ashan processed orders for videos that promoted violent jihad and attended a training camp in Afghanistan, but his attorney said he had a peripheral involvement in the case and the military training was for self-defense.
The two men, who were extradited from Britain in 2012, faced charges in Connecticut because authorities said they used an Internet service provider in the state to run one of the websites.