The conviction and 40-year prison sentence for a young mentally ill Canadian who plotted terrorist attacks in New York City should be set aside, his lawyer argues in a new appeal brief.
The brief on behalf of Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy argues that the trial judge violated his rights, and the sentence handed down to him last December was unreasonably harsh.
“The District Court’s sentence of Bahnasawy to 40 years in the custody of an agency that indisputably could not provide him proper care was substantively unreasonable, shocking and at odds with American ideals of fair punishment,” the brief states.
“In relegating the young and impaired Bahnasawy to a virtual life in prison without proper care, the District Court gave lip service, but little more, to all of the mitigating factors that compelled a humane sentence.”
Canadian prisons provide the kind of mental health care that inmates like El Bahnasawy need, while the U.S. Bureau of Prisons does not, according to the factum filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Court records show El Bahnasawy was a 17-year-old living at home in Mississauga, Ont., when he met an undercover FBI agent online. The defence argued the agent encouraged him to plan attacks on the Big Apple, while prosecutors maintained the plot was well underway before the two connected.
The FBI, with help from the RCMP, arrested the then-18-year-old El Bahnasawy at a hotel on the outskirts of New York in May 2016. Investigators said he had bought bomb-making materials and helped secure a cabin within driving distance of the city for the purpose of building explosive devices.
El Bahnasawy pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in District Court for the Southern District of New York later in 2016. The plans involved conspirators arrested in Pakistan and the Philippines and called for attacks on the New York subway and Times Square.
The appeal brief argues that Judge Richard Berman was wrong to ignore El Bahnasawy’s right to lawyers of his choice. Despite months of prevarication, the brief states, the young Canadian ultimately told the judge he wanted to be represented by private lawyers, rather than legal-aid lawyers, who wanted to step down.
Berman, however, ordered both sets of lawyers to be “equally responsible” for defending him. That decision, his lawyers now argue, undermined any challenge to the guilty plea he had entered on advice of his public lawyers, and violated his constitutional right to counsel of his choice.
The submission by lawyer Andrew Frisch decries the lengthy sentence Berman imposed despite evidence about El Bahnasawy’s youth, mental illness and severe addictions. The judge, who said the risk of a repeat offence was high, ignored El Bahnasawy’s treatment progress and disavowal of violence, his lawyer says.
“The true risk of a sentence of 40 years on this especially robust record is not that the maturing Bahnasawy might one day conspire again, but that we do irreparable harm to the ideals most likely to keep us safe,” Frisch states.
In a letter previously filed with the District Court, El Bahnasawy said he was motivated by American air strikes in the Middle East and expressed regret.
“There are many issues in this world but I don’t want to lose my life or freedom to try fixing them, and I definitely do not want to resort to violence or harm to fix them,” El Bahnasawy wrote. “I sincerely apologize for my (behaviour) and I only ask for a second chance.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2019.
At least 34 dead after floods in north India
At least 34 people have died following days of heavy rains in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand, the state’s chief minister said, as rescuers continued work to free those stranded on Wednesday.
Aerial footage of the affected areas showed engorged rivers and villages partially submerged by floodwaters.
“There is huge loss due to the floods … the crops have been destroyed,” Pushkar Singh Dhami told Reuters partner ANI after surveying the damage late on Tuesday.
“The locals are facing a lot of problems, the roads are waterlogged, bridges have been washed away. So far 34 people have died and we are trying to normalise the situation as soon as possible.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet he was “anguished” by the loss of life.
The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand is especially prone to flooding. More than 200 were feared killed in February after flash floods swept away a hydroelectric dam.
Unseasonally heavy rains across India have led to deadly floods in several areas of the country in recent days. Authorities in the southern state of Kerala said on Monday more than 20 people had died there following landslides. (This story corrects typographic error in the last paragraph)
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Jane Wardell)
Japanese volcano spews plumes of ash, people warned away
A volcano erupted in Japan on Wednesday, blasting ash several miles into the sky and prompting officials to warn against the threat of lava flows and falling rocks, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
Mount Aso, a tourist destination on the main southern island of Kyushu, sent plumes of ash 3.5 km (2.2 miles) high when it erupted at about 11:43 a.m. (0243 GMT), the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
It raised the alert level for the volcano to 3 on a scale of 5, telling people not to approach, and warned of a risk of large falling rocks and pyroclastic flows within a radius of about 1 km (0.6 mile) around the mountain’s Nakadake crater.
The government is checking to determine the status of a number of climbers on the mountain at the time, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters, but added that there were no reports of casualties.
Television networks broadcast images of a dark cloud of ash looming over the volcano that swiftly obscured large swathes of the mountain.
Ash falls from the 1,592-metre (5,222-foot) mountain in the prefecture of Kumamoto are expected to shower nearby towns until late afternoon, the weather agency added.
Mount Aso had a small eruption in 2019, while Japan’s worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years killed 63 people on Mount Ontake in September 2014.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
UK Manchester Airport terminal to reopen after security scare
Terminal Two at Britain’s Manchester Airport will reopen after Greater Manchester Police found no security threat following reports of a suspicious package, a spokesperson for the airport said on Tuesday.
“…Greater Manchester Police is satisfied that there is no security threat and has lifted the cordon that was in place,” the spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the terminal will reopen within the next hour.
The terminal was closed earlier on Tuesday evening after police began assessment of reports of a suspicious package.
In a previous statement, the airport said a “controlled evacuation” was taking place.
(Reporting by Costas Pitas and Nishit Jogi in Bengaluru; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Richard Pullin)
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