Crime & Courts

Al-Qaida agent held in S.C. gets 8 years

PEORIA, Ill. -An al-Qaida sleeper agent who admitted having contact with the alleged mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was sentenced to more than eight years in prison Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mihm could have sentenced Ali al-Marri to as much as 15 years. But he handed down the lighter sentence of eight years and four months after two days of testimony that included defense attorneys' pleas for leniency based on what they called harsh treatment during the almost six years al-Marri was held without charges in a U.S. Navy brig.

The 44-year-old Qatar native pleaded guilty in May to conspiring to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.

He wept through his 10-minute testimony Thursday, telling Mihm he was sorry he ever helped the terrorist organization and was glad his actions never led to any harm.

Prosecutors had argued for the maximum sentence, presenting testimony to try to prove al-Marri would still try to inflict harm on the U.S. if he had a chance.

The judge's decision could have far-reaching consequences because the United States still holds more than 200 people without charge at Guantanamo Bay. If convicted, those detainees also could argue their time in custody should be considered at sentencing.

Al-Marri spent more than five years detained in a U.S. Navy brig in South Carolina without being charged. His attorneys say that was punishment enough, but a U.S. Air Force psychologist says al-Marri would likely attack the U.S. if given the chance.