A Kansas City man who swore allegiance to al-Qaida and sent money to the global terrorist organization was sentenced Monday to 14 years in federal prison.
Khalid Ouazzani, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Morocco, admitted in May 2010 that he had funneled $23,500 to al-Qaida after swearing an oath of allegiance to the organization in June 2008.
Addressing U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs before hearing the sentence, Ouazzani said that his wife and two children had suffered greatly from his decisions, and he pleaded for a second chance.
“I am not proud of the mistakes I have made,” Ouazzani said. “I wish I could go back and erase them.”
Shortly after his arrest on fraud charges in early 2010, Ouazzani, 35, admitted he had sent money to al-Qaida. He then began a long period of heavy cooperation with federal authorities who were investigating two New York City men who also supported al-Qaida.
Last week, Sabirhan Hasanoff, a Brooklyn accountant, was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The other defendant, Wesam El-Hanafi, a Brooklyn information technology security specialist, is expected to be sentenced later.
Ouazzani’s attorney, Robin Fowler, argued that the scale of his client’s cooperation –– Ouazzani met up to 20 times with investigators and gave them immediate permission to search his home, car and electronics –– easily supported a shorter sentence of five years.
“He could not have provided any more assistance than he did,” Fowler said of Ouazzani. “Without him, (Hasanoff and El-Hanafi) would not have been arrested or charged.”
Although Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Casey acknowledged Ouazzani’s cooperation, he asked for 15 years, saying the defendant gave money to al-Qaida in Yemen during a period when the threat from that country was growing.
“It is an unusually bad case,” Casey said. “There was cooperation, but it does not absolve him of what he did.”
U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson said after the hearing she was pleased that the judge had sent such a strong message. “He is a man who swore allegiance to al-Qaida and swore allegiance to our enemies,” Dickinson said of Ouazzani.
Fowler said afterward that he was disappointed with the prosecution’s sentencing recommendation. “They used him up and spit him out when they were done,” Fowler said of his client.
Ouazzani operated a used auto parts store in Kansas City and, in 2006 and 2007, purchased dozens of Kansas City-area properties with fraudulent bank loans.
His case received national attention in June when an FBI official cited it as one of the success stories from the National Security Agency’s wide-ranging collection of data on telephone and Internet communications.
Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce testified before the House Intelligence Committee that such surveillance had helped uncover a nascent plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange supported by Ouazzani, Hasanoff and El-Hanafi. Prosecutors on Monday acknowledged that Ouazzani had nothing to do with the plot.
In court filings last summer, Hasanoff admitted writing a report on the exchange for his two terrorist handlers in Yemen, but Hasanoff said he used only the kind of public information available from Google Earth, tourist maps and brochures.
The Yemeni terrorists later told FBI interrogators that they weren’t pleased with the report and never really had a plan to bomb the stock exchange. The Americans, they told the FBI, had sent them money and equipment, which they kept for themselves, used to buy automobiles or gave to the families of Islamic martyrs.
One of the men in Yemen said that an expected $45,000 contribution from the Americans in late 2008 was to have been used to underwrite the opening of an appliance store.
Sachs also ordered Ouazzani to pay $484,914 in restitution on financial fraud counts to which he also pleaded guilty.