A Canadian who admitted to plotting a terrorist attack on New York City is pleading for “a second chance” in a letter submitted to the court ahead of his upcoming sentencing.
In the letter filed to a New York court on Friday, Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy of Mississauga, Ont., outlined his personal history with addiction and mental illness, and explained that he felt American airstrikes against the Middle East drove him to jihadism.
The 20-year-old wrote that he felt that Americans were trying to disrupt the lives of people in the Middle East with airstrikes and he thought ”it was appropriate to use similar methods back until and unless they stop.”
The 24-page hand-written letter, addressed to the judge in his case and partially redacted, is part of a package his lawyers submitted ahead of his sentencing for multiple terrorism-related charges that he pleaded guilty to last year.
El Bahnasawy described his disenfranchisement with western society, including “so-called democracy and freedom.”
He said he chose to go to the U.S. to carry out the plan because Canada had recently stopped its airstrikes, “and it didn’t make sense to transgress back against them in such a way.”
Police secretly arrested El Bahnasawy, then 18, in what they said was a plot by Islamic State sympathizers to attack New York City concert venues, subway stations and Times Square. He was arrested after travelling from Canada to New Jersey in 2016. The records in his case were sealed for over a year as police tried to hunt down his accomplices.
Authorities announced the charges against him after two other suspects were arrested in Pakistan and the Philippines.
The Canadian didn’t discuss the specifics of the plot in the letter, instead focusing on why he decided to go to such extremes.
“My detailed reasons about this is in no way a justification for it, I merely am explaining my thought process at the time,” he wrote, adding that he no longer believes extremism is the answer.
“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. I sincerely apologize for my (behaviour) and I only ask for a second chance.”
El Bahnasawy also used the letter to outline his struggles with addiction and mental illness, including several trips into hospital psychiatric wards and rehab centres. He said he spent a month in a psych ward in Kuwait, and eight months in rehab in Egypt. Court records show he also spent time at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
“I want to experience life away from drugs and away from war and violence,” he wrote.
He wrote that he wondered where he would be if anyone who knew about his plans had encouraged him to find a more productive way to fight the injustice he saw in the world.
The young man’s lawyers, in a submission included in the package with the letter, requested the judge impose a sentence “no greater than necessary to comply with (the law).”
They suggested that his release might coincide with ”the onset of Abdulrahman’s mid-twenties when his cognitive development will be complete.”
El Bahnasawy’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 9.
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press