A U.S. man who became an al Qaeda terrorist while attending college in Saudi Arabia and plotted to assassinate President George W. Bush was defiant Monday as he was sentenced to life in prison in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
An appeals court had overturned the original 30-year sentence for Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 28, who was born in Houston and grew up in Falls Church. He was convicted in 2005 of joining al Qaeda while studying in Saudi Arabia in 2002. Abu Ali met with top al Qaeda leaders in Saudi Arabia and discussed establishing a sleeper cell in the United States.
“I would like to remind you that you too will appear before the divine tribunal with me and everyone else,” he said in a brief statement to U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee. “That day there will be no lawyers. … If you are comfortable with that, you can decree what you will.”
Last year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ordered a new sentencing hearing, saying Judge Lee’s original sentence was too lenient.
The appeals court ruled Judge Lee was off the mark in comparing Abu Ali’s case to that of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh, who made a plea deal and was sentenced to 20 years. The appeals court said Abu Ali’s conduct was far worse — he joined al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, while Lindh joined before the attacks, and Abu Ali specifically sought to attack the U.S., while Lindh only sought to fight in Afghanistan.
Judge Lee said the new sentence takes into account that Abu Ali has never renounced al Qaeda or terrorist activities, and that he could be a threat to the American public if released. Abu Ali has been in solitary confinement at a federal prison in Florence, Colo.