US authorities have sentenced Haroon Aswat, former aide to the preacher Abu Hamza, to 20 years in prison for trying to set up an al Qaeda camp in Oregon. Aswat is receiving treatment for paranoid schizophrenia.
Aswat, who was born in England, apologized for breaking US law and recited a prayer before receiving his 20-year sentence on Friday.
"I have chosen patience over retaliation, forgiveness over enmity and peace over violence," Aswat told the federal court in Manhattan.
Thanks to the passage of time and psychiatric treatment, he was hoping to "lead a peaceful, crime-free life," he added.
Oregon replacing Afghanistan
Aswat pleaded guilty in March, admitting that he had played a role in a failed attempt to set up a Qaeda training camp in 1999. He allegedly traveled to Oregon on the orders of Abu Hamza, a double-amputee and radical cleric based in London, England.
According to court papers, al Qaeda commanders intended to set up a training compound near the small town of Bly because it was in a "pro-militia and firearms state" that "looks just like Afghanistan." However, the camp never amounted to more than a dozen people taking target practice, authorities said.
Aswat's role was to provide religious training. He also attended a military-style terror camp in Afghanistan in mid-2001, according to the prosecution.
The US prosecutors described the 41-year-old Aswat as a person "at the right-hand of Abu Hamza" who kept "a host of disturbing literature" on his computer.
Same judge for Hamza
After the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington and the US invasion of Afghanistan, Aswat fled to South Africa, and was arrested in Zambia in 2005. The UK authorities kept him in a high-security psychiatric hospital before his extradition in 2014.
On Friday, US District Judge Katherine Forrest said it was "of the greatest importance" that Aswat receive psychiatric care for his paranoid schizophrenia.
Aswat will receive credit for the time spent in custody, and he could be eligible for early release in six years, his lawyers say. The court has decided to support his request to serve the remaining time of his 20-year sentence in Great Britain.
In January, Forrest sentenced the cleric Hamza to life in prison on charges of kidnapping and terrorism, calling him "evil" and his crimes "barbaric."
dj/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)