A former University of Manitoba student was sentenced to 45 years on Tuesday in New York for his involvement in an attack on a U.S. military installation in 2009.
Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh, 32, was previously convicted of multiple terrorism-related offences on Sept. 29, 2017. The sentence was handed down to the Houston-born U.S. citizen in a Brooklyn courtroom by U.S. District Judge Brian M. Cogan.
"With the sentence handed down today, al Qaeda terrorist Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh is being held accountable for his crimes," said Assistant Attorney General of National Security John C. Demers. "Farekh – an American citizen – traveled overseas, joined al Qaeda, and conspired to kill Americans, including through an attack using explosive devices on a U.S. military installation in Afghanistan in 2009. "Across the globe, the National Security Division will continue to relentlessly pursue and bring to justice those who seek to harm Americans, including our brave servicemen and women who risk their lives in defense of our nation."
"Today’s sentencing shows that justice prevails even when terrorist acts are committed in distant foreign locales yet impact American citizens and interests," added FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Willliam F. Sweeney. "The FBI New York Joint Terrorism Task Force remains dedicated to investigating and bringing terrorists to justice wherever they are."
al Farekh was one of three University of Manitoba students who were called the "Lost Boys". The other two men, Ferid Imam and Miawand Yar, were born abroad and raised in Winnipeg.
All three Muslim men, while in their early 20s, were believed to be radicalized while attending the U of M. The court heard the three students came to admire the teachings of Anwar al Awlaki, a radical American cleric who was targeted and killed in 2011 by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen.
They watched and shared Awlaki's sermons about jihad on-line.
Yet the three men were from very different backgrounds. According to a Globe and Mail investigation in 2010, al Farekh was born in Texas, raised in the United Arab Emirates, and educated in Jordan before moving to Winnipeg to attend university. Imam's family moved to Winnipeg from East Africa when he was seven years old. He attended Dakota Collegiate Institute, where he was a high school soccer player. Miawand was born in Pakistan to Afghan parents. His family moved to Winnipeg when he was eight years old. While attending school in the North End, Miawand gained a reputation as a bully and was arrested for selling crack in 2003, the Globe reported.
But instead of remaining at the U of M until graduation, all three men suddenly and mysteriously left for Pakistan without informing family members. Imam and Yar have been missing ever since.
al Farekh, however, was charged with several counts of providing material support for al-Qaeda relating to a 2009 explosion at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
Prosecutors charged that al Farekh, along with Yar and Imam, departed Canada for Pakistan with the intention of fighting against U.S. forces overseas. They subsequently received training from al-Qaeda, with al Farekh ascending to a leadership role in the terrorist organization as a bomb-maker.
In January, 2009, militants launched a two-part attack on a U.S. military base in Khost, Afghanistan. The first explosive-laden vehicle detonated at an entry gate. But a second, much larger truck bomb became stuck in the bomb crater and failed to explode.
U.S. military technicians dismantled the bomb – packed with 3,400 kilograms of explosives – and sent its components for forensic analysis. An expert at the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation matched 18 fingerprints found on sticky brown packing tape wrapped around the explosives to al Farekh, according to trial reports from the New York Times.
al Farekh served in Al Qaeda’s external operations unit from 2007 to 2014, prosecutors said, where his duties included collecting money for the terrorist group’s fighters. When he was first identified as a Qaeda operative, his case prompted a debate within the U.S. government over whether it was morally and legally defensible to kill an American citizen overseas without a trial.
Although the Pentagon nominated al Farekh to be placed on the so-called kill list of terrorism suspects and the Central Intelligence Agency pushed for him to be killed, he was taken into custody in Pakistan in 2014 based on intelligence provided by American officials. After being questioned by a team of elite terrorism investigators, he was eventually brought to Brooklyn to stand trial.
- With files from The Associated Press