A Tunisian man accused last year of coming to the United States to develop a terror network was sentenced Wednesday to time served and immediate deportation by a federal judge in Manhattan after prosecutors dropped terror charges and admitted he came here to rejoin his wife.
Ahmed Abassi claimed he was the victim of an FBI sting gone bad and eventually pleaded guilty only to lying on visa forms. U.S. District Judge Miriam Cedarbaum told him he should be more careful, and did not apologize for holding him in jail since April 2013 on charges the government dropped.
"I hope you will think very seriously about the events of the last year and will decide to always abide by the laws of the United States," Cedarbaum said. "If you do that, I wish you good luck."
"Thank you, your honor, I agree with you," Abassi replied.
Defense lawyer Sabrina Shroff said Abassi had been unfairly imprisoned awaiting trial based on conversations with an undercover FBI agent in which he expressed anti-American views and support for terrorism but repeatedly refused to engage in any actual terrorist acts or plots.
"It is disappointing to me that he spent 15 months in jail for doing nothing more than being stupid and opinionated," she said. "This is the worst kind of case. You're trying to punish someone who just had bad thoughts and opinions."
Abassi, 27, came under suspicion while he was an engineering student in Canada in 2012 because of his association with Chiheb Esseghaier, a terrorism suspect thought to be plotting to derail a train, and an undercover FBI agent known as "Tamour."
When Abassi and his fiancé went to Tunisia in 2013 to marry, Canada canceled his visa. He was desperate to rejoin his wife in Canada when contacted by "Tamour," who promised to help if Abassi came to the United States, and urged him to get a visa by falsely claiming he worked for the undercover agent.
While Abassi was in the United States, the agent and Esseghaier repeatedly tried to get him to commit to terror plots, such as contaminating water supplies. Abassi, the government later admitted, expressed sympathy for terrorism in principle, but repeatedly and "adamantly" refused to participate in plots.
He was arrested in April 2013 and charged with coming to the United States to facilitate an act of terrorism. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara declared at the time he had an "evil purpose" -- to use the United States "as a base to support the efforts of terrorists."
But in April, prosecutors reduced the charges to lying on immigration forms. They urged Cedarbaum to impose a sentence higher than the six months called for in guidelines, because Abassi expressed "dangerous, extremist" views.