An al-Qaeda operative who recruited a Montgomery County woman known as "Jihad Jane" for a 2009 plot to assassinate a Swedish cartoonist was sentenced Tuesday by a federal judge in Philadelphia to 15 years in prison.
Ali Charaf Damache, 53, pleaded guilty in July to conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists, and agreed to the 15-year maximum prison term. On Tuesday, District Judge Petrese Tucker formally accepted the deal. Damache was indicted in 2011, and has been in custody in Philadelphia since his extradition from Spain last year.
Damache, wrapped in a drab olive jumpsuit and wearing black-frame eyeglasses, told the judge that he believes in freedom and knows "it is never given on a silver plate."
"I am strong believer in democracy," the Algerian-born Damache said. "And all that rubbish had said against me has no sense. I have never been to any country where I practiced for the jihad whatsoever."
Tucker granted Damache's request to be extradited back to Ireland after he finishes his sentence. Damache has dual citizenship in Ireland and Algeria.
The judge said he could serve his sentence in a prison in the Northeastern United States, as he requested.
"Mr. Damache was the driving force behind this conspiracy," said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams. "He preyed on vulnerable Americans in order to get them to fly out to Europe and join a violent terrorist cell that he was forming."
Damache is the fourth and final defendant to receive his sentence in the controversial case, which has spanned more than nine years and stretches back to the early days of the war on terror.
During the late 2000s, he recruited U.S. citizens and brought them to Europe as part of a plan to train them in explosives and send them to Western countries to conduct violent acts, hoping they could more easily move across borders.
His first recruit was Colleen LaRose, a Pennsburg woman who drew attention after converting to Islam online, and then for participating in fiery extremist rhetoric in online Muslim communities under the user name "Jihad Jane."
Damache, using the name "theblackflag," found LaRose along with Jamie Paulin Ramirez, a single mother from Colorado, and Mohammad Hassan Khalid, a former high school honors student from Maryland.
In 2009, Damache persuaded LaRose and Ramirez to join him in Ireland, where he said they would prepare an attack on Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist whose work depicting Muhammad's head on the body of a dog offended some Muslims.
LaRose became disenchanted and left the group before an attack could be carried out, calling an FBI tip line seeking money to return home.
LaRose, 55, was sentenced in January in Philadelphia to 10 years in federal prison.
Ramirez, 39, and Khalid, 24, were released after serving their sentences.