U.S. prosecutors want a Canadian who plotted terrorist attacks in New York City for the so-called Islamic State to serve a life sentence due to the “depravity and extraordinary seriousness” of his crimes.
A report filed in U.S. district court on Friday ahead of Abdulrahman El-Bahnasawy’s sentencing said a harsh prison term was needed to deter others from plotting attacks against the United States.
“He worked over the course of months with high-level, Syria-based ISIS members and other ISIS supporters around the world to plan a large-scale terrorist attack in New York City, and he took numerous steps towards executing the plot,” the prosecutors wrote.
The prosecutors also said that after his arrest, the Mississauga, Ont. resident had scrawled pro-ISIS statements on the walls of his prison cell and threatened attacks against the U.S.
A 20-year-old Kuwait-born Canadian, El-Bahnasawy was arrested in New Jersey on May 21, 2016 following an undercover FBI investigation into an international ISIS attack plot. The RCMP cooperated with the investigation.
The case remained sealed until last October, when El-Bahnasawy’s alleged co-conspirators were arrested in Pakistan and the Philippines. El-Bahnasawy has pleaded guilty to seven counts of terrorism.
He was 18 at the time of his arrest. Global News has reported he was treated in 2014 at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and following his arrest he was taking a medication used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
His lawyers and family have depicted him as a socially-isolated youth struggling with mental health and drug addiction issues and have asked for a short sentence so he can return to Canada for treatment.
“That request is utterly divorced from the reality of this case and, simply put, offensive—offensive to basic notions of justice in light of El-Bahnasawy’s conduct and offensive to the people whom he sought to kill,” the prosecutors countered.
The prosecution compared El-Bahnasawy to another Kuwaiti-Canadian, Mohammed Jabarah, who left St. Catharines, Ont. to join Al Qaeda and was tasked to attack U.S. embassies in Southeast Asia. He is now serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison.
El-Bahnasawy himself told the judge in a 24-page letter that after his parents forced him to attend an Islamic school, he “realized Islam would fix all the problems in society or the world in general.”
He said he began to see free and democratic societies as corrupt and deserving of violence, and said he turned to terrorism because he was angry about coalition airstrikes and the media, which he said “blinded everyone” by portraying Muslims as terrorists.
The pre-sentencing report filed by prosecutors acknowledged that El-Bahnasawy had a history of mental health and addiction but said he was not using drugs during the period of the plot.
“That he has a history of drug abuse, which does not set him apart from countless other defendants, hardly constitutes a material mitigating consideration under the circumstances present in this case,” the U.S. attorneys wrote.
His personal troubles “cannot explain or justify his conduct,” they added, describing El-Bahnasawy’s attack plotting as “chillingly lucid, sophisticated, and determined.”
The prosecution report said that in late 2015 or early 2016, El-Bahnasawy began communicating with a high-level ISIS member in Syria named Abu Sa’ad al-Sudani, who was involved in plotting attacks in Canada, the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
To demonstrate his commitment to the ISIS cause, El-Bahnasawy sent cell phones and $500 to “certain names and addresses specified by al-Sudani.”
He also became an administrator of online ISIS support groups that engaged in hacking, including of a database of U.S. law enforcement personnel.
It was al-Sudani who encouraged El-Bahnasawy to take part in an attack against the U.S., the report said. Al-Sudani also introduced him to the alleged co-conspirators, Talha Haroon and Russel Salic.
“In the ensuing weeks, El-Bahnasawy began planning to carry out a suicide attack in support of ISIS targeting New York City, involving the detonation of improvised explosive devices, as well as mass shootings, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadhan, which ran from approximately June 5 to July 5 in 2016.”
By the time an undercover informant infiltrated the plot, it was already well underway, the prosecutors said. El-Bahnasawy bought bomb-making materials in Ontario and sent them to the informant.
“I wanna create the next 9/11,” he told the undercover.
He planned to travel to the U.S. with his parents and sister, telling the undercover, “I will be masked behind my parents back.” But he was arrested the same day he crossed the border.
“In short, El-Bahnasawy was the driving force and operational planner behind the NYC Attack plot,” the sentencing report read.
“That he ultimately did not succeed should not inure to his benefit. El-Bahnasawy failed, not because he thought better of his murderous goals, but because the plot was disrupted by law enforcement and El-Bahnasawy and certain of his co-conspirators were arrested.”
He is to be sentenced on April 9.