SEATTLE (Reuters) - A man who plotted to storm a Seattle military recruitment centre with machine guns and grenades in retaliation for U.S. military actions in Afghanistan was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Monday.
Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, also known as Joseph Anthony Davis, pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to murder officers and employees of the United States and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.
Passing sentence in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Judge James Robart also gave Abdul-Latif 10 years of supervised release. Under the terms of his plea deal with U.S. prosecutors, he faced a sentence of up to 17 to 19 years in prison.
Throughout an almost two-hour long hearing on Monday, 35-year old Abdul-Latif - who has spent the last two years in solitary confinement - was silent. Long-bearded and wearing a white knit skullcap, he rocked slightly back and forth, declining the opportunity to address the court when offered by the judge.
Before sentencing, government prosecutors argued Abdul-Latif was an active participant in the plot and fully intended to carry out the attack, while defence attorneys argued he was an easily-led victim of entrapment and merely indulged in “rhetoric.”
The judge concluded that Abdul-Latif “meaningfully participated” in the attack plot and handed down a sentence in the middle of the range outlined in the plea deal.
Abdul-Latif’s co-defendant, Walli Mujahidh, 33, pleaded guilty in December 2011 to conspiracy and weapons charges and is scheduled for sentencing on April 8.
The pair, both U.S. citizens, were arrested in June 2011 and indicted the following month on charges of conspiring to attack the Military Entrance Processing Station, where enlistees are screened and processed, south of downtown Seattle.
In his plea agreement in December, Abdul-Latif admitted he agreed to carry out the attack and made plans for Mujahidh to travel to Seattle from Los Angeles to take part in the assault.
The plot came to light after a person who had known Abdul-Latif for several years and had been asked to supply weapons for the planned attack went to police instead, becoming a paid undercover informant, according to court documents.
The informant told authorities that Mujahidh suggested storming the recruitment station “with machine guns and grenades and killing everyone there,” the U.S. prosecutor’s office said.
Grenades are treated as weapons of mass destruction under U.S. federal law.
In a “sting” operation, high-powered assault rifles that had been rendered inoperable by law enforcement agents were brought by the informant to the two suspects, who were arrested when they took possession of the guns, prosecutors said.
According to an FBI affidavit, Abdul-Latif told the informant the planned attack was in retaliation for what he said were crimes by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
Abdul-Latif also mentioned a 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in which an Army psychiatrist is accused of killing 13 people, noting that “if one person could kill so many, three attackers could kill many more,” the informant told authorities, according to the original criminal complaint.
Washington state and Seattle city law enforcement officials welcomed the sentence for planning what would have been a bloody attack.
“This defendant planned to attack a military centre when there would be the largest possible gathering of new recruits and their families,” U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said in a statement. “He targeted young men and women solely because they wanted to serve our country. His goal: to inspire others with a message of hate.”
Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Tim Gaynor, Scott Malone, Andrew Hay and Andre Grenon