By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A Somali immigrant was sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday for plotting to blow up an Ohio shopping mall with a man later convicted of being an al-Qaida terrorist.
Nuradin Abdi, a cell phone salesman before his arrest, pleaded guilty in July to conspiring to provide material support for terrorists. He will be deported to Somalia after serving the federal sentence.
In a 20-minute statement to the court, Abdi's attorney Mahir Sherif said his client apologized to the people of the United States, the people of Ohio and the Muslim community. He said Abdi regretted that his conviction might lead to problems for other Muslims.
"He apologizes for the things he thought about and the things he talked about and the crimes he pleaded guilty to," Sherif said. "He wants to make it very, very clear that he does not hate America."
Prosecutors said Abdi made threatening comments about the unspecified shopping mall during a meeting with two other suspected terrorists on Aug. 8, 2002, at a coffee shop in suburban Columbus.
Abdi and the two "could attack the mall with a bomb," Abdi told his friends as they sipped refreshments at the coffee shop, according to court documents.
One of the men with Abdi that day was Iyman Faris, who pleaded guilty in May 2003 to providing material support for terrorism. A Pakistani immigrant, Faris was convicted of plotting to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The third man alleged to be at the meeting is Christopher Paul, a U.S. citizen who grew up in suburban Columbus. He was charged in April with plotting to bomb European tourist resorts frequented by Americans as well as overseas U.S. military bases, and his trial is scheduled for January 2009.
The suspected plot was never carried out, and Sherif has maintained that Abdi was guilty at most of ranting about the United States' handling of the war in Afghanistan.
Prosecutor Robyn Jones Hahnert, however, told the judge that the case against Abdi went far beyond one angry comment. She said Abdi illegally traveled out of the U.S. to search for holy war training and provided stolen credit card numbers to buy equipment like laptop computers for use in terrorism.
"The United States is a country that welcomes people to question — that's what we're all about," Hahnert said. "But that questioning should not lead to criminal activity that can harm people."
Abdi's attorneys have said that the stolen credit card numbers were never used and that the Justice Department never alleged what organization they believed was running the training camp Abdi was accused of visiting, what Abdi intended to do with the training or whether he ever actually went.
A family spokesman said after the sentencing that the government exaggerated the facts against Abdi, knowing they would be hard to disprove.
"Since this was not a session where everybody has to bring their proof, they could have made any kind of statement," said Yusuf Abucar, a Columbus architect originally from Somalia.
Fred Alverson, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said Abdi agreed to a long statement of facts outlining the allegations as part of his plea deal.
Three charges were dropped as part of the agreement; Abdi could have received 80 years in prison had he been convicted of all the counts he had faced.
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Faris told authorities about the mall plot conversation after he was taken into custody, and Abdi was arrested in November 2003. Abdi probably will receive credit for the four years he's spent in custody since then, Alverson said.