A federal judge in Manhattan imposed the sentence after listening to a 20-minute speech from admitted terrorist Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, in which he repudiated violence and asked to be allowed to go home to his family.
"I am not a ruthless, infamous and notorious terrorist," Jabarah said. "I do not believe in terrorism, violence and killing."
U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones said she gave Jabarah credit for his repudiation of violence, but said she couldn't overlook what he had done.
"Actions speak louder than words," she said.
Jabarah was captured in Oman after his bombing plot collapsed. He has been in U.S. custody since 2002, when he was turned over to the FBI by Canada's intelligence service and secretly pleaded guilty to terrorism charges as part of a short-lived plea bargain.
For a time, he was a valuable resource in the hunt for al Qaeda leaders.
During the few months of his cooperation with the FBI, Jabarah gave investigators information about Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, described his personal meetings with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, and detailed his interactions with several other high ranking al Qaeda lieutenants.
He also described his own involvement in a terrorist plot. After graduating from high school in Canada, where he had lived since a move from Kuwait at age 12, Jabarah slipped into Afghanistan and trained at al Qaeda camps in 2001. Prosecutors said he became a protege of Mohammad and was preparing for the planned embassy attacks.
It was Khalid Shaikh Mohammad who sent Jabarah to Southeast Asia for the planned embassy bombings and gave him $50,000 to carry them out, reports CBS News producer Phil Hirschkorn. Jabarah personally conducted video surveillance of the embassy in Singapore, according to his plea.
"This is far from a half-baked plot," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Rodgers, noting that tons of explosives had already been purchased and a suicide bomber selected when the scheme was foiled by a round of arrests.
"Mr. Jabarah is the real deal," Rodgers said.
After his capture by Oman's intelligence service, Jabarah was brought to Canada where he was interrogated and told he had two choices: Go to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo, or switch sides and inform on his terrorist mentors.
Jabarah chose the later, and by July 2002 he had pleaded guilty in a closed court session and moved into a series of FBI safe houses in the United States.
His work as an informant, however, ended after just a few months, when FBI agents searching his quarters discovered jihadist writings, a knife and rope hidden in his luggage, and instructions on how to make explosives. They also found a list bearing the initials of U.S. agents and prosecutors. Investigators believed it was a list of people Jabarah intended to murder.
Jabarah was immediately transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where he lived in solitary confinement for four years.
In court on Friday, his lawyer, Kenneth Paul, told the judge that it was all a misunderstanding. The knife, he said, was for personal protection due to death threats received by his family. The extremist writings were notes taken on terrorist videos that he had been asked to watch as part of the investigation.
"It's just ridiculous," Paul said of the allegation that Jabarah was compiling a death list. He didn't comment in detail on the other writings in which his client appeared to express disgust with America and muse on how he might return to terrorism if he were ever freed.
An attempt to re-enlist Jabarah as an informant failed in 2006.
Both sides agreed that, by then, he had soured on American law enforcement and was unwilling to cut a new deal.
"He could have been a great cooperating witness," Assistant U.S. Attorney David Raskin lamented during the court hearing Friday. He said Jabarah knew enough to build indictments against several terrorist leaders, but instead chose to remain loyal to bin Laden. "He was not interested in saving lives."
Sitting before the judge Friday, Jabarah told the judge he was a changed man. He asked that he be released from prison immediately so he could go to college, become an ophthalmologist and spend the rest of his life with his family.
He said he was "brainwashed" by people he thought were liberators of an oppressed people. "They were nothing more than terrorists," he said, and he deplored their killings as "absolutely disgusting, sickening and perverted."
Jones told Jabarah she would have found his statements more compelling if he had agreed to resume his cooperation with the government.