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Was jihad suspect here to commit violent crimes or just bragging?

From the title of this blog post, you might expect that the alleged jihadist had attempted to commit an actual violent crime. Or, you might assume he had been caught planning a bombing or at training to join al-Qaeda, but that isn't the case. The New York native is actually charged with lying to the FBI and falsifying tax documents, and he has already pled guilty.

He did make a number of inflammatory statements to an FBI informant, such as one indicating he had come to Florida in order to join al-Qaed and learn how to kill people, but it seems he didn't really do anything to back those statements up. His criminal defense attorney describes him as a man who grew up addicted to drugs and who has suffered from mental illness.

Despite the charges against him having apparently nothing to do with terrorism, federal prosecutors would like his "extremist views" taken into account during sentencing, which is taking place this week.

Yesterday, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the man's defense lawyer wrangled over the appropriate sentence before a federal judge in Orlando.

Prosecutors said the FBI has hours of recordings in which the man told the informant, for example, that al-Qaeda exists in Florid and that he hoped to go to an al-Qaeda-based training camp in Africa. They claim he was involved in a network dedicated to committing "violent jihad."

"He's a danger. It's a serious case," said the prosecutor.

His defense attorney painted a very different picture. The New Yorker, he said, moved to Florida for a fresh start after his difficult childhood and drug addiction, and he was off to a good start. An friend in New York had taken him under his wing and sent him to live with his now co-defendant in Orlando. Here, he improved his social skills, learned to read the dictionary and even attended martial arts classes.

His friend and co-defendant even introduced him to a man who turned out to be an FBI informant. His attorney argues that the FBI set him up, knowing he would like to agents. Although he made a number of incriminating statements -- although not enough to sustain criminal charges -- it was just foolish nonsense. His lawyer called it "chest-bumping."

The defendant himself said he never intended to commit a violent crime or become a jihadist.

"I sincerely apologize," he told the judge.

The judge says he plans to listen to some of those FBI recordings before determining the right course of action. The defendant is facing a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison. His attorney says a sentence of not more than 9 years is more appropriate.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, "Terrorism suspect denies jihad plans," Amy Pavuk, March 21, 2013

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