Shahawar Matin Siraj, 24, was arrested on the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention. Though there was no proof he ever obtained explosives or was linked to any terror organizations, prosecutors said his intentions were ominous: He wanted to blow up the Herald Square subway station, a bustling transportation hub located beneath Macy's flagship department store.
Siraj showed no reaction as the sentence was read. He faces deportation when his prison term is completed.
Defense attorneys had sought to convince U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon that Siraj's sentence should not exceed 10 years, arguing in recent court filings that their client was "not a dangerous psychopath but more of a confused and misguided youngster."
Siraj claimed he was entrapped by a paid police informant who inflamed him by showing him photos of inmates being abused at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and then secretly recorded his escalating threats called "trash talk" by his lawyer against the United States.
"I apologize for all the stuff I said on those tapes," Siraj said before sentencing. "I'm taking responsibility for 34th Street, but I was manipulated by this person."
Prosecutors countered that Siraj deserved at least 30 years behind bars as the "driving force" behind a "workable terrorist plot."
Siraj was convicted of conspiracy last year based partly on the testimony of a police informant, Osama Eldawoody, who was recruited to monitor radical Muslims at mosques and elsewhere following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Inside an Islamic bookstore near a Brooklyn mosque, Eldawoody wore a wire and chatted up an employee who lived with his parents in Queens Siraj. When the topic turned to the war in Iraq, Siraj ranted about rumors among radicals that U.S. soldiers were sexually abusing Iraqi girls.
"That was enough for me," he said in one of series of secretly recorded conversations played for the jury. "I'm ready to do anything. I don't care about my life."
Eldawoody, assuming the role of a co-conspirator, assured Siraj that any plan he concocted would have the backing of a fictitious faction called The Brotherhood. Siraj considered other options to harm the U.S. economy, including destroying several New York area bridges or killing Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Testifying in his own defense, Siraj admitted taking preliminary steps to attack the subway station, including scouting locations to place a bomb, but only at Eldawoody's prompting. He also claimed he never had a violent thought before he fell under the spell of the 50-year-old Eldawoody.
Siraj said the older man became a mentor and instructed him that there was a fatwa, or religious edict, permitting the killing of U.S. soldiers and law enforcement agents.
Outside court Monday, Siraj's mother, Shahina Parveen, said the informant "tricked my son and got him stuck in this."
"My son is innocent," she said. "He didn't do anything."
In a statement, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly called the outcome a "milestone" in safeguarding the city. He said, "Our detectives uncovered a murderous plot in its infancy and stopped it before lives were lost."