U.S judge sentences al Qaeda agent to 100 months


PEORIA, Ill., Oct 29 (Reuters) - An accused al Qaeda sleeper agent, who was labeled an "enemy combatant" and held in isolation in a U.S. Navy brig, was sentenced on Thursday to 100 months in prison, with the judge worrying he might return to the terror group.

Ali al-Marri, a 44-year-old with dual citizenship in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to provide material support to al Qaeda.

Judge Michael Mihm of the U.S. District Court in Peoria sentenced al-Marri to eight years and four months -- about half the 15 years sought by prosecutors. Mihm reduced the sentence by the 5-1/2 years that al-Marri served in the U.S. Naval brig in South Carolina and by another nine months for the harsh treatment he received there.

With two years of the sentence already served, al-Marri may be released in five or six years.

"The risk of reassociating with those that brought you here is high," Judge Mihm said in passing sentence.

"I believe you do not truly reject what you did and you would do it again after you go home -- whether here or somewhere else, that remains to be seen.

Al-Marri's plea agreement called for a 15-year sentence, but his attorneys said he was a "low-level lackey" in the conspiracy, had suffered terribly in U.S. custody, and was needed by his family whom he had not seen in eight years since his arrest Dec. 12, 2001.

A video aired in court during the two-day sentencing hearing showed al-Marri blindfolded and wearing ear muffs, shackled at the wrists and legs and the chains bolted to the floor while at the Navy brig. This treatment lasted more than 15 months while he was being interrogated by the Defense Intelligence Agency, his attorneys said.

NEVER HARM AMERICANS

Al-Marri gave a tearful statement to the court, vowing he would never again wish harm on Americans and pleading to be reunited with his family and his frail parents.

An Air Force psychologist from the Naval brig testified on Wednesday that al-Marri was likely to engage in hostile acts against the United States if released. Major Deborah Sirratt said she interviewed al-Marri and found him to be manipulative and strongly opposed to U.S. involvement in Middle East affairs.

In his guilty plea, al-Marri said he trained at al Qaeda camps and was instructed to return to the United States, where he had previously been a student. He arrived the day before the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The head of the brig, Commander John Pucciarelli, said al-Marri was a fitness buff and read hundreds of books on Islam and other topics. His first two to three years at the brig were spent in near total isolation, with his captors forbidden to speak to him.

Another video from the brig showed him pacing his barren cell. Guards often took away his Koran and eyeglasses and he was denied a mattress and other comforts.

Al-Marri was initially charged with fraud based on credit card and other information found on his computer, but those charges were later dropped in 2003 and then-President George Bush declared him an enemy combatant.

Legal experts have said his case was considered a preview of how the administration will handle detainees at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which is slated to be closed.



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