Uzbek man gets more than 15 years for Obama threat
FILE - This is an undated handout photo from the Shelby County (USA) Sheriff's Dept picturing 22-year-old Ulugbek Kodirov. A federal judge in Alabama on Friday, July 13, 2012 sentenced Kodirov to 188 months in prison for a plot to kill President Obama. He pleaded guilty to threatening to kill the president, providing material support to terrorism, and unlawfully possessing a firearm. (AP Photo/Shelby County Sheriff's Dept., File)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - An Uzbek man who came to the U.S. pursuing an Ivy League medical degree but wound up working seven days a week at a mall in Alabama was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison Friday for plotting to kill President Barack Obama.
Ulugbek Kodirov, 22, had faced up to 30 years in prison.
Written and oral court pleadings show that Kodirov was accepted to study medicine at Columbia University in New York but never enrolled because his English was too poor. He later moved to Alabama for a job and worked at a mall, where the defence said he used the free wi-fi service to connect with extremists who turned him against the United States.
Kodirov apologized Friday in halting English.
"I am truly sorry for every mistake that I have done," he told the judge.
Defence attorney Lance Bell argued that Kodirov had accepted responsibility for his actions and was trying to straighten out his life. He said Kodirov wasn't a "big, bad terrorist."
"I'm not calling him a victim, but he's a victim to a degree of social media," Bell said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Whisonant said Kodirov would have tried to kill Obama, and a foreign group would have taken credit, had he not been arrested a year ago.
"This case is an example of how our youth can be radicalized by the propaganda and lies on the Internet," Whisonant told the judge.
Kodirov pleaded guilty in February to threatening to kill Obama, providing material support to terrorism and unlawfully possessing a firearm. He said he came up with the plan to kill the president as he campaigned for re-election after communicating online with a man he believed to be a member of an Uzbek Islamic group the United States classifies as a terrorist organization.
A complaint said Kodirov contacted an unidentified person trying to buy weapons in early July 2011, and that person became a confidential source for the government. Accompanied by the witness, Kodirov bought an automatic rifle from an undercover agent and made a final threat against the president, authorities said. The agent also gave Kodirov four hand grenades with the powder removed.
Authorities said Kodirov was in the country illegally because he obtained a student visa but never enrolled in school. He faces deportation after his release from prison. Bell said he could be killed for his actions when he returns home.
The defence argued Kodirov was lonely and turned to the Internet for entertainment and companionship after moving to Alabama, where few people speak his native language.
A sentencing memorandum submitted by his defence attorney said Kodirov began viewing jihadist websites and YouTube videos. After communicating with Muslim men, he "came to the belief that Americans were killing his people in cold blood."
Kodirov's beliefs changed after his arrest, when he learned stories he had been told were lies, Bell argued.
Located in central Asia, Uzbekistan and was once part of the former Soviet Union. The vast majority of its population is Muslim. Islamic terrorists have been linked to sporadic violence in the country for more than a decade, according to the State Department.
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