A mentally ill Muslim man was sentenced to a decade in prison this week after pleading guilty to 10 charges related to a 2011 plot to blow up synagogues and churches in New York City.
Attorneys for 27-year-old Ahmed Ferhani accepted Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus’ decision Monday of 10 years behind bars after the defendant admitted on the stand to conspiring to “create chaos and send a message of intimidation and coercion to the Jewish population of New York City.”
Ferhani could have faced 32 years in prison had he pleaded not guilty and tried for a slew of charges relating to hatching a scheme involving the bombing of synagogues and churches across New York. Prosecutors say Ferhani thought of himself as the “mastermind” of an elaborate terror plot and planned to go undercover as a Hasidic Jew in order to infiltrate non-Muslim religious communities and wreak havoc. Ferhani’s attorney had been adamant with having the most serious charges against their client thrown out, however, citing a history of mental illness and possible police entrapment as factors in their defense.
Ferhani "has been getting institutionalized since he was 17 years old," defense attorney Lamis Deek told reporters after Monday’s court proceeding.
"The NYPD was called to his house more than a dozen times. They would show up at his house and then take him to Bellevue" hospital,” Deek said.
According to the New York Daily News, Ferhani’s mother said her son was hospitalized for psychiatrist issues more than two dozen times since high school.
Starting in late 2010, agents with the New York Police Department investigated Ferhani for several months because they believed he was interested in committing acts of terrorism. An undercover officer with the NYPD using the name Ilter reached out to Ferhani during the investigation, befriending him in order to get closer to the suspect.
“Ilter pursued Ahmed, driving him to doctor’s appointments, spending money on him, lending him money, and calling him his brother,” supporters of Ferhani write on the Justice for Ahmed website.
“Ahmed was a vulnerable target–he was broke, unemployed, depressed, and struggling with emotional imbalances. The NYPD was fully aware of Ahmed’s condition, and most likely chose him as a target because of it.”
In May 2011, Ferhani and another man were arrested for allegedly trying to purchase semi-automatic pistols, a grenade and 150 rounds of ammunition from an undercover officer posing as an arms dealer. Ferhani was making a $100 down payment on the arsenal of weaponry when he was apprehended and eventually charged with counts involving hate crimes and terrorism.
“Ahmed was tricked and coaxed into a scheme that was completely initiated, constructed, and performed by NYPD agents praying on one Muslim man who they knew to be impressionable and in need of help,” his supporters write.
Entrapment or not, state prosecutors say that they successfully thwarted what could have been a real catastrophe — albeit it one law enforcement orchestrated themselves by using a mentally ill man.
“The threat of terrorism is real,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance tells the New York Times this week, adding that the case highlights “the importance of state prosecutors and NYPD intel working in partnership to play a critical role to complement our federal colleagues.”
Ferhani’s plea marks the first time a terrorist has been convicted on the new state terror charges set in place following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Previously, all terrorism cases in New York had been tried on a federal level.