A man who planned attacks on military installations and synagogues in the Los Angeles area for an Islamic terrorist cell was sentenced Monday to 22 years in federal prison for conspiring to wage war against the United States.
Levar Haney Washington told a federal judge in Santa Ana that cell members “flirted with the possibility” of attacking targets but no longer believe “a military solution is possible” because “it belies reality.”
Washington, a convert to Islam, and three other defendants were members of Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh, a radical Islamic organization formed in prison by cell leader Kevin Lamar James. The group is better known as JIS and had no connection to al-Qaeda.
Federal authorities said JIS had been formed in 1997 and the cell in 2004. Law enforcement officials did not stumble upon the group until 2005, while investigating a Torrance gas station robbery.
Washington and Gregory Patterson, another cell member, were suspected of robbing about a dozen gas stations in Los Angeles and Orange counties over a month’s time. Federal prosecutors said they intended to use money from the robberies to finance terrorism.
When Torrance police searched the men’s South Los Angeles apartment, they found plans for attacks against military facilities, synagogues and Israeli offices.
On Monday, Washington told U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney that the cell acted out of opposition to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and chose gas stations to rob because oil is a political symbol. “Calamities affecting the Muslim world” affected his way of thinking, he said.
Washington, 30, compared his life, punctuated by stints in jail and prison since he was a teenager, to what he said was oppression of Muslims throughout the world.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Gregory W. Staples responded that “Mr. Washington is not on trial because he’s a Muslim.”
Washington said there are still “a lot of questions” about the cell’s intentions, but he did not elaborate. Instead, he said that he had rejected radical Islam since his arrest in 2005.
“I’ve been able to have opportunities to expand my mind beyond the parameters of Islam,” he said. “I was able to put my fanaticism and radicalism to the side.”
In sentencing Washington, Carney said that the terrorist acts Washington had planned were “truly frightening” and that he had intended to kill and injure as many Jews as possible by planning attacks on Jewish holidays.
The judge granted Washington’s wish and ordered him incarcerated in a prison in California, where he can take advantage of educational and counseling programs and be close to his family.
Washington is the first member of the cell to be sentenced. He pleaded guilty in December to the federal charges but still faces robbery charges in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Patterson has also pleaded guilty to a terrorism conspiracy charge and is scheduled to be sentenced July 9.
James, who organized the cell, is scheduled to be sentenced in February 2009. He recruited Washington while they were both inmates at Folsom State Prison near Sacramento.
The fourth defendant, Hammad Riaz Samana, was found unfit to stand trial and is under psychiatric care at a federal prison facility.