By DERRILL HOLLY, Associated Press Writer
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) - An Ohio man accused of plotting to cut through the cables that support New York's Brooklyn Bridge was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a judge who refused to let him withdraw his guilty plea.
Iyman Faris, 34, of Columbus, was sentenced Tuesday to 15 years for aiding and abetting terrorism, plus five years for conspiracy.
According to prosecutors, Faris, traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan, carrying out low-level missions for terrorists. He provided sleeping bags, cellular telephones and cash to members of al-Qaida and met with Osama bin Laden in 2000 at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, the government said. He also was accused of providing the terror group with information about possible U.S. targets.
Although he is alleged to have investigated the possibility of using a gas cutter to burn through the Brooklyn Bridge's suspension cables, Faris ultimately recommended through e-mail messages to his contacts against pursuing that option, which he described as "unlikely to succeed."
Authorities said Faris received attack instructions from top terrorist leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for what they suggested might have been a second wave planned for New York and Washington to follow the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty said Faris also researched the use of ultralight aircraft for al-Qaida missions.
Faris pleaded guilty in May, but he asked to withdraw his plea last month. His attorney said his mental evaluation was not complete and his mental state when he entered the plea had not been determined.
U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema would not allow him to take back the plea, saying, "He thoroughly understood what he was doing." However, she preserved his right to appeal the withdrawal attempt.
Faris insisted everything he agreed to in the plea deal was false.
"I don't have any connection with al-Qaida except my best friend works for al-Qaida," Faris said in court.
The plea agreement, which required him to cooperate with federal investigators, outlined details of conspiring with al-Qaida.
Faris was born in Pakistan and became a U.S. citizen in 1999. Since his arrival in the United States in 1994, his primary occupation has been a truck driver. He also has used the name Mohammad Rauf.
Faris' mental problems were well known and serious, said Mouhamed Nabih Tarazi, a Muslim imam who married Faris and his ex-wife Geneva Bowling in 1995. Tarazi visited Faris in a Columbus mental hospital following a suicide attempt in 1997 or 1998.
During a phone call with Bowling around the same time, he listened to Faris loudly rant nonsense words in the background.
"I do think he's not a normal person," Tarazi, of Columbus, said Tuesday. He said he hoped Faris' mental health problems could be addressed later if the country's mood changes.
"Right now the whole country is really under the shock of 9-11, Afghanistan, the war in Iraq," Tarazi said. "Four or five years from now, maybe things will calm down."