Vietnamese man gets 40 years in US prison for Al-Qaeda support

Armed police patrol at Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, on March 22, 2016.
Armed police patrol at Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, on March 22, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A Vietnamese-born man who US authorities say was instructed by a top figure with Al-Qaeda's Yemen affiliate to carry out a suicide attack at London's Heathrow Airport was sentenced on Friday to 40 years in prison.

Minh Quang Pham, 33, was sentenced by US District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan after pleading guilty in January to charges he provided material support to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The group has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the United States and other nations as well as the United nations.

Nathan cited Pham's renunciation of the militant group as a reason for not imposing a 50-year term sought by prosecutors.

But she said he deserved more than the mandatory minimum 30 years due to his role in the "horrific" bomb plot.

"Given this, he must face a significantly severe sentence,"she said.

Pham has admitted he helped prepare the Islamic militant group's online propaganda magazine, Inspire, and received military-type training after travelling to Yemen in 2010 from his home in the United Kingdom.

Prosecutors said Pham was also involved in a never-executed plot to construct and detonate an explosive device in the arrival area at Heathrow after returning to the United Kingdom from Yemen in July 2011.

Prosecutors said Pham was trained on how to carry out the suicide attack by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Islamic cleric who became a leader in the group. He was killed in a September 2011 US drone attack.

Upon his return to the United Kingdom, he was detained by authorities at Heathrow Airport, who discovered various items including a live round of .762 calibre armour-piercing ammunition.

He was arrested in the United Kingdom in June 2012 at the request of US authorities and extradited to the United States in February 2015.

In court papers, Pham's lawyer, Bobbi Sternheim, rejected prosecutors' claims that Pham was involved in the alleged Heathrow plot, saying he "never intended to pursue any such plot or engage in any physical violence."