ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- An American Muslim was sentenced yesterday to 30 years in prison for joining Al Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President Bush.
Prosecutors had asked for the maximum, a life sentence, for Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a 25-year-old US citizen who was born to a Jordanian father and raised in Falls Church, Va.
''The facts of this case are still astonishing," prosecutor David Laufman said. ''Barely a year after Sept. 11, the defendant joined the organization responsible for 3,000 deaths."
But US District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee said 30 years was sufficient punishment. He compared the Abu Ali case with that of ''American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, who received a 20-year sentence.
Abu Ali's actions ''did not result in one single actual victim. That fact must be taken into account," the judge said.
Prosecutors said Abu Ali traveled to Saudi Arabia and joined Al Qaeda out of hatred for the United States. The Saudis arrested Abu Ali in June 2003.
Abu Ali was convicted in November of conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to hijack aircraft, and providing support to Al Qaeda, among other crimes. The charges carried a mandatory sentence of at least 20 years.
Abu Ali gave the Saudis a statement in which he said he joined Al Qaeda and discussed terror plots, including Bush's assassination, with some of the group's most senior members. He also said he talked with members about plans to establish an Al Qaeda cell in the United States.
Abu Ali alleged that the Saudis had extracted a confession from him through torture. Prosecutors denied he was mistreated.
Abu Ali said he had the scars on his back that proved he was beaten by the Saudis. Doctors for the government and the defense examined him, coming to different conclusions.
The jury in the three-week trial saw a videotaped confession Abu Ali gave to the Saudis in which he said he joined Al Qaeda because he hated the United States for its support of Israel.
In February, defense lawyers asked for a review of the conviction in light of the disclosure that US officials had eavesdropped on suspected terrorists' conversations without search warrants. Abu Ali's lawyers said they had no firm evidence that Abu Ali had been a target of the surveillance.