CHICAGO – A Chicago man who pleaded guilty to a plot to attend a Somalia training camp with the dream of becoming a suicide bomber was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 10 years in prison.
Standing in orange jail clothes, his hands behind his back, 29-year-old Shaker Masri looked calm as a judge imposed the sentence for one count of attempting to provide material support and resources to a terrorist group.
"That you were willing to die in harming others is extremely disturbing to this court," U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman told him. "There is a need to deter you, people such as Mr. Masri, from this type of behavior."
Masri – who was born in Alabama but has close family ties to Syria – allegedly talked with an informant about killing a busload of U.S. soldiers and learning how to strap on a belt-full of explosives. He also allegedly spoke about "heavenly rewards one would receive for martyrdom," according to a government presentencing filing.
"Masri's goal was to be a tool of indiscriminate murder," the same filing said.
Masri was arrested in August 2010 hours before he was scheduled to leave the country for a trip to Somalia, where he hoped to become a suicide bomber for al-Qaida and another terrorist group, al-Shabab, prosecutors have said. He had allegedly started talking to a confidential FBI informant of his plans a little more than two weeks before his arrest.
After his arrest, investigators found a copy of Osama bin Ladin's manifesto, "The Declaration of War Against the Americans" on his computer as well as the book "The Islamic Ruling on the Permissibility of Self-Sacrificial Operations: Suicide or Martyrdom?"
Masri allegedly admired Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric believed to have inspired the 2009 Fort Hood, Texas, shootings and the attempted bombing of a jetliner approaching Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009. A U.S. drone attack killed al-Awlaki last year.
Shaker did display emotion once Tuesday, interrupting and asking to speak when a prosecutor said he hadn't renounced his ideology. But after huddling with his lawyers, he stayed quiet. Asked later if he had any remarks, he said politely, "No thank you, your honor."
After his release from prison, Masri will be subject to 20 years of close supervision and monitoring, Coleman said. That will include restrictions on Internet access, she said.
Masri's mother, who had attended her son's hearings, died recently, and no other relatives were in court Tuesday. Escorted by U.S. marshals, Masri was allowed to visit his mother in the hospital in October before she died.
He pleaded guilty to the one count as part of a July plea deal. His attorney, Thomas A. Durkin, said then that "there comes a time when the government makes offers that are difficult to refuse in the light of the potential consequences."
The plea agreement suggested a prison term of just under 10 years, the term the judge imposed. She could have disagreed with that recommendation, though that would have voided the plea deal.
Coleman noted Masri could have received a 15-year term. The judge said she accepted the lesser term for various reasons cited in the plea deal, including that Masri had spent much of his last two years in jail in solitary confinement and that his mother had recently died.
She asked attorneys, however, why they had listed civil strife in Syria as another factor justifying a lesser sentence.
"Some of his family live in Syria and it's an added stress factor ... stress about how his family is faring," Joshua Dratel, another of Masri's attorneys, told her.
Leading up to Tuesday's hearing, the defendant's older brother sought to soften Masri's image, sending a letter to the judge describing him as lively and kind, and as "our neighborhood's favorite boy" when they were growing up.
"Older people used to love chatting with him, because he had a wild imagination and would tell fantastic stories," Anas Almasri wrote.