A federal judge yesterday sentenced Muslim activist Abdurahman Alamoudi to the maximum 23-year prison term for illegal dealings with Libya that included his involvement in a complex plot to kill the Saudi ruler.
Once so prominent that his influence reached the highest levels of the U.S. government, Alamoudi stood before U.S. District Chief Judge Claude M. Hilton in a green prison jumpsuit and said quietly: "I regret my involvement in everything unlawful I did." His attorneys urged a lighter sentence, portraying Alamoudi, as a minor player in the scheme to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.
But Hilton accepted the argument of prosecutors that the longtime activist played a key role as a go-between who introduced Libyan officials to two leading Saudi dissidents in London who were coordinating the plan. Alamoudi pleaded guilty in July to illegally moving cash from Libya, admitting that he pocketed nearly $1 million and used it to pay conspirators in the plot, which sources said came close to succeeding before it was broken up by Saudi intelligence officials.
"He saw an opportunity make a buck in a murder-for-hire plot," Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven P. Ward said. "I submit to the court that this conduct is so base, so reprehensible that the defendant deserves every day of prison that this court will impose upon him."
The sentence marked the final downfall of one of America's best-known Muslim activists -- a former head of the American Muslim Council who met with senior Clinton and Bush administration officials in his efforts to bolster Muslim political prominence. Alamoudi, 53, of Falls Church also helped found the Pentagon's Muslim chaplain program and was involved in a variety of other Islamic political and charitable organizations.
"It's terrible. It's a human tragedy," Stanley L. Cohen, one of Alamoudi's attorneys, said outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria after the hearing. He said the sentence was "exactly what we expected," but he portrayed Alamoudi as a victim of other conspirators who did far more to carry out the plot. "Alamoudi walked into a situation, unknowingly and largely unwittingly," Cohen said.
Government officials called the sentence a major step in their efforts to shut off terrorist financing.
"This is a clear victory in the war against terrorism," said Paul J. McNulty, the U.S. attorney in Alexandria.
Michael Garcia, the Department of Homeland Security's assistant secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the sentence "reflects the seriousness of Alamoudi's crimes." He said that during the investigation, agents "tracked suitcases stuffed with cash, unearthed Swiss bank accounts and documented meetings with shadowy figures around the globe."
Alamoudi has undergone extensive debriefings, and Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said yesterday that Alamoudi's cooperation will aid "critical" terrorism investigations. Government sources have said, for example, that Alamoudi will be asked about the sprawling probe into whether a cluster of Islamic charities, companies and think tanks in Herndon and elsewhere in Northern Virginia financed terrorist organizations.
Alamoudi was closely involved with the Northern Virginia cluster, which has denied any terrorist links. It was unclear yesterday how much, if any, information Alamoudi has given. One of his attorneys, James P. McLoughlin Jr., said Alamoudi will "cooperate to the best of his ability. If he has information, great. If not, he's not going to invent it."
Alamoudi's arrest, shortly after his arrival at Dulles International Airport on Sept. 28, 2003, caused an outcry among friends and associates, who portrayed him as a moderate activist. Yet almost as many federal officials were in the courtroom yesterday as supporters of Alamoudi, who smiled as he was led away by security officers.
Born in Eritrea, Alamoudi is a naturalized U.S. citizen who automatically lost his citizenship when he pleaded guilty to engaging in prohibited transactions with Libya, along with tax and immigration counts.
Court documents said the assassination plot arose from a March 2003 conference at which Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and Prince Abdullah had a heated exchange. Angered at how Gaddafi was treated, Libyan officials recruited Alamoudi.
Even after he learned that the target was Abdullah, Alamoudi shuttled money and messages between Libyan officials and the two Saudi dissidents in London, the documents said. Although Gaddafi is not named as a planner, sources familiar with the case have said he appears in the documents as "Libyan government official #5," who met personally with Alamoudi.
Staff writer Mary Beth Sheridan contributed to this report.