American prosecutors are requesting a life sentence for a Canadian man who admitted to plotting terrorist attacks on New York City landmarks at the behest of a high-ranking Islamic State operative.
Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, a 20-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., pleaded guilty in October 2016 to planning bombings and mass shootings at Times Square, in subway stations and at concert venues while still a teenager.
With his sentencing scheduled for April 9, American federal prosecutors have asked a judge to send El Bahnasawy to prison for life, in accordance with U.S. guidelines for punishing similar terror offences.
“El Bahnasawy’s willingness to kill innocent civilians and martyr himself for ISIS, his absolute commitment to ISIS at the time of his arrest, and his deeply disturbing conduct since then … powerfully support a single conclusion: the incapacitation of El Bahnasawy should be total and lifelong,” U.S. prosecutor Geoffrey Berman said in a written submission filed to a New York federal court.
El Bahnasawy’s lawyers have requested a sentence “no greater than necessary to comply with (the law),” and suggested he be released from custody in his mid-twenties, “when his cognitive development will be complete.”
El Bahnasawy, a Canadian citizen who emigrated from Kuwait as a child, spent several months in treatment at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto in 2014, court documents show.
In a handwritten letter submitted to the court on March 2, El Bahnasawy apologized for his behaviour and asked for a “second chance,” recounting his years of substance abuse, mental health issues and multiple suicide attempts.
“I want to experience life away from drugs and away from war and violence,” he wrote. “I want a stable life and I want to stop having extreme turns that keep getting me in trouble, like my turn towards drugs or my turn towards jihad.”
But Berman argued in his submission to the court that neither mental illness nor addiction justify, explain or mitigate El Bahnasawy’s criminal actions.
“If anything, El Bahnasawy’s asserted instabilities and addictive tendencies only further underscore the need for a sentence of life imprisonment to protect the public from a future attack or other criminal conduct by El Bahnasawy,” Berman said.
Since being incarcerated in a New York corrections facility, El Bahnasawy has used opioids and marijuana multiple times, and “marked the walls of his prison cell with images and statements expressing his support for ISIS and terrorist attacks, and warning that more attacks were to come,” Berman said in his submission.
One photo of El Bahnasawy’s cell walls submitted to court shows a scrawled list of high-profile terror attacks, including 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing, encircled by what appears to be a heart and the words, “and more coming.”
El Bahnasawy began communicating online with Islamic State followers in 2015, Berman said in his submission.
In 2016, at the request of a high-ranking member of the terror organization, El Bahnasawy began planning a suicide attack on New York that was to include the detonation of improvised explosive devices at Times Square and in subways, and mass shootings at concert venues, court documents show.
El Bahnasawy recruited other purported Islamic State sympathizers to help co-ordinate and carry out the attacks, including one man who, unbeknownst to him, was an undercover FBI agent.
On May 21, 2016, under the guise of taking a family vacation, El Bahnasawy, then 18, drove to Cranford, N.J., with his parents and sisters to set the attack in motion, unaware that he was being heavily monitored by U.S. law enforcement.
He was arrested by the FBI upon his arrival.
El Bahnasawy pleaded guilty in October 2016 to multiple offences that included conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to bomb a public place and public transportations system and providing and attempting to provide material support.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had an incorrect date for El Bahnasawy’s guilty plea.