An American citizen who traveled to Afghanistan to join al-Qaida was sentenced Tuesday to 45 years in prison for his role in a vehicle bombing of a U.S. military base in 2009.
Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh, 32, of Houston, was convicted in September 2017 of multiple terrorism offenses, including conspiracy to murder American military personnel in Afghanistan and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. He was a key member of an al-Qaida cell that detonated a massive truck bomb outside Forward Operating Base Chapman, which injured one U.S. soldier and several Afghan nationals.
The bombing would likely have been far worse but for the fact a second truck carrying about 7,500 pounds of explosives fell into the bomb crater and failed to detonate.
“Farekh, a citizen of this country, turned his back on America by joining al-Qaeda and trying to kill American soldiers in a bomb attack on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan,” U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue said in a statement.
Federal investigators say the Texas-born Farekh and his co-conspirators became radicalized from listening to the jihadist lectures of Anwar al-Awlaki, another U.S. citizen-turned-al-Qaeda leader who was killed by a U.S. drone strike. Awlaki’s sermons inspired Farekh to travel to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, a lawless frontier with Afghanistan that is home to al-Qaeda’s base of operations.
Farekh used his familiarity with the West to ascend to a leadership role in al-Qaeda’s external operations group, which focused on planning attacks against the U.S. and its allies. There, he helped build the vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) that was used in the Chapman attack.
Prosecutors read testimony from victims of Farekh’s bombing, in a sentencing hearing in New York federal court.
“On the day of the explosion, I was alone,” Private First Class Mark Ferrell recalled in a statement, according to the New York Post. “I was a 19-year-old soldier over 7,000 miles away from home. I will never forget the feeling of not knowing if I am going to die or not.”
Farekh asked Judge Brian Cogan for a more lenient sentence of 20 years, saying he renounced Jihadi violence, but the judge was not swayed.
“It’s by the grace of God that more people were not killed in this attack,” Cogan said. “A pregnant woman had a large piece of shrapnel in her back. That’s as serious as it gets.”
“I have to acknowledge the possibility that [Farekh] is not a changed person,” the judge went on to say.
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