An Albanian man who lived in New York was sentenced to 15 years in prison for attempting to support an Islamic terrorist group.
Agron Hasbajrami, 28, who was arrested in 2011 while on his way to join jihadists in Pakistan, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn, New York, federal court.
“There are crimes that involve successful efforts to engage in terrorism. You were nipped in the bud,” Gleeson told the defendant.
Prosecutors allege that Hasbajrami communicated with a Pakistan-based extremist between April and Aug. 28, 2011, whose group was involved in attacks on American soldiers in Afghanistan. Hasbajrami sent the individual about $1,000 and discussed plans for joining the group, saying he had a desire to “marry with the girls in paradise,” according to a Nov. 21 memorandum filed by the government.
A source cooperating with the U.S. learned from Hasbajrami that he was continuing to pursue his plans to join the group, prosecutors said in the memo. He was arrested Sept. 6, 2011, at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on his way to Turkey en route to Pakistan, according to the government.
Hasbajrami pleaded guilty in April to one count of attempting to provide material support to terrorists.
Hasbajrami’s parents and his uncle described the defendant in letters to the court as an educated man who cared about people in need.
“I guarantee you that my nephew Agron Hasbajrami cannot be a person that represents danger to the society,” his uncle Rasim Hoxha, an Albanian government employee, said in a letter, according to an English translation filed with the court. “Since his childhood until today he has never fought in life with any person.”
His parents, Ahmet and Meriban Hasbajrami, said in a translated letter that coming to America was a “dream” for their son, who lived in Brooklyn and worked in an architect’s studio.
“We are shocked by the accusation that bears over him and are of the belief that our son would not have knowingly and consciously done any acts that would threaten security in the USA,” they said in the translated version of their letter.
During the hearing today, Hasbajrami stood before the judge in khaki jailhouse garb and delivered a statement slowly in English, expressing regret that couldn’t explain himself as well as he could in Albanian.
“I used to dream that someday I could become someone that could change the world for better. But I have failed,” he said. “I hope you can find it in your heart to give me a break today and I will never forget you.”
As part of his guilty plea, Hasbajrami reached a deal with prosecutors under which he would be subject to no more than 15 years in prison. Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme said the maximum in that range is appropriate because “there is a strong need to deter others, of whom there are many” from similar behavior.
“People need to understand that if they support terrorism there are severe consequences,” DuCharme told the judge.
Gleeson said he might have imposed a harsher penalty if not for the plea deal. Hasbajrami, who was in the U.S. legally, is expected to be deported following his sentence.
The sentencing comes a day after the appearance in Brooklyn federal court of terrorism suspect Abid Naseer, who was extradited from the U.K. Naseer is accused of a communicating with a Pakistan-based facilitator about a potential attack in Manchester, England. The same facilitator also communicated with defendants in a separate case over an alleged plot to bomb New York City subways, the U.S. government said. Neither attack was carried out.
The case is U.S. v. Hasbajrami, 1:11-cr-00623, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
To contact the reporter on this story: Christie Smythe in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
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