NEW YORK — A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced a Canadian man to 26 years in U.S. prison for supporting a group of jihadists who committed a 2009 suicide attack that killed five American soldiers in Iraq.
The sentence came over the objections of several family members of the soldiers, who appeared in Brooklyn federal court and demanded Faruq Khalil Muhammad 'Isa spend the rest of his life behind bars.
“These five families will never be whole again,” said Becky Johnson, whose 24-year-old son, Gary Lee Woods Jr., died in the April 2009 blast outside the gate of the U.S. base in Mosul, Iraq.
Johnson said she had been “appalled” by the plea offer in the case, adding it seemed to her that “someone felt my son wasn’t worth fighting for.”
Her remarks were echoed by several servicemen and family members of the victims, who filed solemnly into the courtroom seeking justice more than a decade after the attack.
U.S. District Judge Roslynn Mauskopf thanked the families for their attendance but explained that 'Isa played a “comparatively limited role” in the conspiracy from Canada — one that did not include planning the actual attack.
'Isa’s actions warranted a significant prison term, the judge added, but one less severe than the life sentence called for under the federal sentencing guidelines. She noted the government faced logistical hurdles, such as locating witnesses abroad, and the risk of acquittal should 'Isa have chosen to stand trial on terrorism charges.
“There’s no excuse for even trying to kill American soldiers,” the judge said, adding the sentence “sends a message” to anyone contemplating similar conduct.
'Isa will be deported to Canada following his release and placed on federal probation for the rest of his life.
'Isa, a Canadian citizen and Iraqi national, was arrested in 2011 on a U.S. warrant after an investigation by authorities in New York, Canada and Tunisia.
Federal prosecutors cited wiretap evidence and an interview of 'Isa in linking him to the Tunisian terror network that used a suicide bomber to detonate an explosives-laden truck outside the U.S. base in Mosul.
As the truck proceeded past an Iraqi police checkpoint, it detonated next to an American military convoy, leaving a crater that prosecutors said was 60 feet (18 meters) deep.
'Isa admitted corresponding by email with two of the jihadists while they were in Syria and “facilitators” who were trying to get the attackers into Iraq, according to court filings. Authorities said he also wired one of them $700 and provided “words of encouragement and religious guidance” to his co-conspirators.
But taking 'Isa to trial would have required “considerable resources” from the government and its “counterterrorism apparatus,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Solomon said.
Defense attorney Samuel Jacobson, a former Marine who served in Iraq, argued the suicide bombing would have occurred even without 'Isa’s peripheral role. He said the conspiracy had been “fully formed” before 'Isa ever got involved, and that 'Isa “tried to put two individuals in touch, and he failed.”
“Mr. 'Isa is not a terrorist,” Jacobson said, “and he doesn’t have hate in his heart.”
Not all of the family members in attendance Tuesday called for 'Isa to receive a life sentence. David Pautsch, whose son Jason Pautsch also died in the attack, told Mauskopf he believed that an “overstated role” had been attributed to 'Isa.
“I have no real desire to see him put away, to see him tortured,” he said of the defendant.