US sentence a Nigerian 22 years in jail for helping Al-Qaeda

Credit: WH Media
Credit: WH Media

The fight and frown against terrorism by the US is seen by the sentencing of a 35-year-old Lawal Babafemi to 22 years’ imprisonment in the United States for aiding an affiliate of Al-Qaeda in Yemeni.

Babafemi, sentenced on Wednesday by a US District Judge, John Gleeson, in Brooklyn, was accused of receiving weapons training from Al-Qaeda and writing rap lyrics for the terrorist organisation.

He had pleaded guilty, in April 2014, to providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organisation, Al-Qaeda, in the Arabian Peninsula. He said he whipped up enthusiasm for the terror outfit in his native land and lobbyied Muslims to join its Yemeni branch.

He collected $9,000 from the late Al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki to recruit for Al-Qaeda on his behalf, prosecutors said.

But in appealing for leniency, Babafemi told the court on Wednesday that the two years he had spent in American prisons had cleansed him of Jihadi impulses and that he had renounced religious violence completely.

“I’m extremely sorry for anything I have done against the United States. I want to say that I denounce Al-Qaeda and their activities,” he said.

His attorney, Lisa Hoyes, noted that Babafemi grew up in grinding poverty and that he was brutally tortured by Nigerian officials before his extradition to the US.

She also cited his emphatic rejection of Al-Qaeda’s ideology and pointed to a sparkling record of behaviour while in prison.

“He’s learned that Americans are people like him,” she said in asking for a sentence of 15 years, well below federal sentencing guidelines.

But federal prosecutor Zainab Ahmad rejected his claims of ideological rehabilitation and said he was simply trying to shave time off of his sentence.

She noted that Babafemi willfully made the “perilous” trek from Nigeria to Yemen in order to pursue his al Qaeda dreams.

Prosecutors had sought up to 30 years’ imprisonment for Babafemi, who was extradited from Nigeria in 2013 after being arrested several times two years earlier on local terrorism charges.

Al-Qaeda is an organisation of Islamic militants that has declared “holy war” on Americans, Jews and their allies.

The organisation was suspected to have caused thousands of deaths in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US and other attacks around the world.

According to the US authorities, from January 2010 to August 2011, Babafemi travelled from Nigeria to Yemen twice to meet with leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP.

During his time with the group, Babafemi, who went by the name “Ayatollah Mustapha,” was said to have worked on the AQAP’s media operations, including its magazine Inspire.

According to statements he gave the US authorities, Babafemi was ordered by al-Awlaki, an American, to go back to Nigeria and recruit other members. Awlaki had since been killed in one of the US attacks.

Babafemi’s sentence came on the heels of the arrest in India of two Nigerian youths suspected to be on their way to Iraq to join the terrorist organisation, Islamic State.

The two youngsters – Imran Kabeer and Sani Jamiliu – were arrested along the India-Pakistan border after scaling a barbed wire fence near the international border, where they were handed over to the Punjab Police.

According to the Indo-Asian News Services, the two Nigerians, aged between 24 and 25, from Kano State, told Indian officials that they wanted to go to Pakistan and later to Iraq. The youths, the report said, did not possess valid travel documents to enter Pakistan.

They were said to have arrived in Sikh from Delhi in a hired taxi. The IANS noted that the duo argued with the taxi driver, “hoodwinked him and drove away his Swift Dzire car and arrived at the integrated checkpoint at Attari.”

Since the youths claimed their final destination was Iraq, security officials said they could be going to join the Islamic State terror outfit.

The ISIS – Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – began in 2004 as al Qaeda in Iraq, before rebranding as ISIS. Like the Al-Queda, ISIS is also anti-Western but is more deadly in its control of seized territories.

Like Babafemi, a 28-year-old last son of a former bank chairman, Umar Abdulmutallab, at the age of 23 on Christmas day of 2009 confessed to and was convicted of attempting to detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear while on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253, en route from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan.

Abdulmutallab, who came to be known as ‘underwear bomber’ was said to have been sponsored by the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Prosecutors had provided evidence of his romance with the terrorist organisation, which trained him and supplied him with the bomb.

Last week, the Nigeria Immigration Service announced it had barred no fewer than 4,916 Nigerians from travelling out of the country between January and March, 2015.

The Nigerians were suspected to be on their way to join international terrorist organisations, including the ISIS and the Taliban.

Credit: Punch Newspaper

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