Queens man gets 10 years in synagogue terror plot

Would-be terror suspects Ahmed Ferhani, left, 26, and Would-be terror suspects Ahmed Ferhani, left, 26, and Mohamed Mamdouh, 20, stand before a judge during their arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court in Manhattan. They allegedly aspired to bomb synagogues, churches and the Empire State Building. (May 12, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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A Queens man who was the target of a controversial NYPD terrorism sting operation was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday, the first sentence meted out under state terrorism laws passed in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Ahmed Ferhani, 28, was accused of plotting an attack on synagogues in 2011. Defense lawyers and Ferhani contended that an undercover operative from the NYPD played an outsized role in encouraging the plot, and federal officials -- who typically pursue terror investigations -- stayed away from the case.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus said Friday he was giving Ferhani 10 years, instead of the 14 sought by prosecutors, because of the complex background of the case, which involved claims that Ferhani had psychiatric problems and became emotionally and financially dependent on the undercover officer.

Ferhani, an Algerian who faces deportation when his sentence is over, pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy as a crime of terrorism and criminal possession of a weapon as a crime of terrorism. He faced up to 25 years in prison if he was convicted at trial.

He admitted to forming a plan with the undercover agent and co-defendant Mohamed Mamdouh to send a "message of intimidation" to Jews by attacking a synagogue, and just before his arrest acquired a grenade and firearms from another undercover agent. Charges against Mamdouh, who has pleaded not guilty, are still pending.

In his statement Friday, Ferhani told Obus that he harbored no ill will toward anyone based on gender, race or religion, and promised to use his time in prison to "strengthen my character."

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Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said the use of state anti-terrorism laws was an "important first," allowing New York to prosecute without federal backing. "Violent plots like Ahmed Ferhani's endanger all New Yorkers," Vance said.

But Ferhani lawyer Lamis Deek said the case represented a gross misuse of police power to invent a crime. "What Ferhani is paying for," she said, "is the crimes of the NYPD."

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