A Falls Church man was resentenced to life in prison Monday for plotting to kill President George W. Bush by a judge who said his release would threaten "the safety of the American citizenry."
Ahmed Omar Abu Ali was originally given a 30-year prison term after being convicted in 2005 of joining an al-Qaeda conspiracy to mount a series of attacks and assassinations in the United States. A federal appeals court last year upheld the conviction but sent the case back for resentencing, indicating that the sentence should have been more severe.
U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in Alexandria obliged Monday, saying that although he "begged to differ" with some aspects of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit's decision, he had concluded that the risk of ever releasing Abu Ali is too great.
"I cannot put the safety of the American citizenry at risk," he said, citing Abu Ali's "unwillingness to renounce the beliefs that led to his terrorist activities."
The new sentence was imposed after Abu Ali told the judge he was being mistreated in prison and blamed his conviction by a federal jury on "a rogue Justice Department." Abu Ali, who grew up in Northern Virginia and was valedictorian of his 1999 class at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Fairfax County, is being held at a highly secure federal prison in Colorado known as the "supermax."
"I cannot pretend that this is justice," said Abu Ali, who concluded his remarks by "reminding" the judge "that one day you will go before the divine tribunal. Allah, he knows the doings of every soul. If you are comfortable with that, then you can decree whatever you want to decree."
Prosecutors had called for a sentence of life in prison, and defense attorneys sought the original 30-year term.
The prosecution of Abu Ali was among a series of major terrorism cases tried in U.S. District Court in Alexandria after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Jurors convicted Abu Ali, then 24, on all nine counts against him, including conspiracy to assassinate the president.
Security officers from Saudi Arabia provided the bulk of the government's case, the first time a U.S. criminal trial relied so heavily on evidence gathered by a foreign intelligence service.
The verdict culminated a public campaign by Abu Ali's family and supporters to bring him back from Saudi Arabia, where he had been jailed for 20 months. His parents said that their son was tortured by Saudi security officers and that U.S. officials knew about the torture. Abu Ali's lawyers echoed that, saying his admissions about being involved in the terror plot were coerced.
But a judge, jury and the 4th Circuit have all rejected that argument, and Lee reiterated that rejection today. Abu Ali told the court that "there is no denying that they tortured me and coerced me into making incriminating statements."
As he left the courtroom, Abu Ali smiled and waved to a large crowd of supporters in the audience, some of whom called back in Arabic "salaam aleikum," or "peace be with you." His parents declined to comment.