Vietnamese man jailed in US over plot to bomb Heathrow
A Vietnamese man has been sentenced to 40 years in prison by a US judge who said she was inclined to believe the American government's contention he plotted to carry out a suicide bombing at Heathrow Airport.
Minh Quang Pham has been sentenced in New York for providing material support in 2011 to al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. He said he never intended to harm anybody, and no attack occurred.
Prosecutors say Pham was directed by al Qaida leader Anwar Al-Awlaki to detonate explosives in the arrivals area.
Pham had pleaded guilty in January to terrorism charges, but he did not agree that he intended to carry out the plot.
He was extradited from London in March 2015.
Pham faces a minimum 30 years in prison. Prosecutors requested 50 years.
US district judge Alison J Nathan noted that 33-year-old Pham had renounced all terrorism and said he was ashamed of having provided material support to al Qaida.
She rejected a government request that Pham be sentenced to 50 years in prison, though she also said the 30 years in prison requested by the defence was insufficient.
Judge Nathan said Pham deserved an "exceptionally severe sentence" after he became a trusted, skilled and dedicated resource for the terrorist group, lending his abilities as a graphic artist to Inspire magazine, a publication that the government has said was used by the brothers who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013 to learn how to create pressure-cooker bombs.
She said she believes the government's claims that Pham planned to carry out "a horrific suicide bombing" at Heathrow after he returned to London in the summer of 2011.
Pham cried as he told the judge a long sentence under harsh prison conditions would keep him away from his family for decades.
"I never committed an act of violence," he said. "I made a terrible mistake. I regret it very much."
In a letter to the judge before sentencing, Pham said he was renouncing "all acts of terrorism and all extreme ideology".
He also wrote that he would "personally condemn" the September 11 attacks, saying they were "a shameful and provocative act".
The judge read aloud some of his statements renouncing terrorism as she announced the sentence, saying his decision to do so was a factor in her decision-making.
As assistant US attorney Anna Skotko described why she believed a 50-year sentence was appropriate, the judge interrupted her to ask what she thought of Pham's contrition and claims to now renounce terrorism.
"We don't think they are credible," she said. "His actions speak louder than his words."
In arguing for leniency, defence lawyer Bobbi Sternheim said Pham might have no country to return to after he finished his prison term since his citizenship in the United Kingdom was taken away. She pointed to her client, noting his slim build.
"He certainly is not the picture of al Qaida," she said.