November 24, 2015 / 12:16 PM / 2 years ago

Pakistani man sentenced in U.S. to 40 years prison for al Qaeda plot

Abid Naseer, 26, is seen in a courtroom sketch as he pleads not guilty to terrorism charges in his first U.S. court appearance in New York in January 7, 2013.Jane Rosenberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Pakistani man was sentenced by a U.S. judge to 40 years in prison on Tuesday for plotting to bomb a shopping center in England, as part of an al Qaeda plan to carry out attacks in Europe and the United States.

Abid Naseer, 29, had faced up to life in prison following his conviction by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, in March on charges including that he provided material support to the Islamic militant group.

Naseer, who at trial denied involvement with al Qaeda, sought leniency from U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie, saying he was "not nor have I been a career criminal."

But while Dearie gave Naseer a path to leaving prison someday, he said the evidence established his guilt.

"I know you're not what I'd say for lack of a better word a 'typical' criminal. Not in any sense of the word," Dearie said. "You're a terrorist."

James Neuman, Naseer's lawyer, said he plans to appeal.

Naseer was first arrested in April 2009 in a British anti-terrorism operation. British authorities never charged Naseer, but he was later indicted in the United States and extradited in 2013.

Naseer, who was raised in Peshawar, Pakistan and called himself a semi-professional cricket player, led an al Qaeda cell that plotted to bomb a shopping center in Manchester, England, in 2009, prosecutors said.

The proposed bombing in Britain was part of an overall al Qaeda plot that included attacks against New York City's subway system and a Copenhagen newspaper, prosecutors said.

Two men, Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay, have pleaded guilty to U.S. charges stemming from the New York subway plot. A third, Adis Medunjanin, was sentenced in 2012 to life in prison.

Zazi testified at Naseer's trial, supporting prosecutors' claims that both men coordinated their plans through coded emails with an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan.

At trial, prosecutors used never-before publicized documents seized from the 2011 raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

Prosecutors also called as witnesses British MI5 officers who conducted surveillance on him. They testified anonymously, wearing wigs and makeup to protect their identities.

Naseer denied the charges, telling jurors that "terrorism is not compatible with Islam."

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Zainab Ahmad told Dearie that "there is nothing in the record that gives us any hope he is any less committed to violence in the name of religion than at the time of his arrest."

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Bill Trott, Dan Grebler and Marguerita Choy

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