One Iraqi national who admitted to attempting to send money and weapons from Bowling Green to insurgents in Iraq was ordered by a federal judge Tuesday to spend the rest of his life in prison, while his co-conspirator, who cooperated with authorities, was given a 40-year sentence.
Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, 25, was sentenced to life by Senior Judge Thomas Russell in U.S. District Court, who also sentenced Waad Ramadan Alwan, 31, to 40 years in prison followed by a life term of supervised release.
Hammadi and Alwan were Iraqi refugees living in Bowling Green when they engaged in a months-long plot with a man who passed himself off as a member of a group shipping money and weapons to terrorists in Iraq, but who was actually a confidential source for the FBI.
The weapons the men handled had been rendered inert, and the weapons and money remained under law enforcement control throughout the investigation.
The men were arrested in 2011, and Alwan pleaded guilty that year to all 23 counts against him in a federal criminal indictment.
Hammadi was originally charged with 10 terror-related crimes. A superseding indictment added two counts of immigration fraud, and he pleaded guilty to all charges in August.
Prosecutors said he denied being a member of any terrorist group or taking part in terrorism when asked on immigration forms.
“These were the sentences we had advocated for,” U.S. Attorney David Hale said after the sentencing hearing at the federal courthouse in Bowling Green. “A life sentence for both men certainly would have been appropriate given the crimes they had committed.”
Alwan earned a reduced sentence following a motion by Larry Schneider, trial attorney for the counterterrorism section of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Schneider said that after Alwan’s arrest, he provided “substantial” cooperation with law enforcement that merited a reduction from a potential life sentence.
Schneider, Alwan and his attorney, public defender Scott Wendelsdorf, met Tuesday in Russell’s chambers to discuss classified information that Alwan provided to the federal government after Schneider made a motion to reduce Alwan’s sentence.
Wendelsdorf declined to comment after Alwan’s sentencing.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Hale did not elaborate on the information Alwan provided to law enforcement.
“The work done by the FBI and the members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force speaks for itself,” Hale said. “They did outstanding work.”
The local joint terrorism task force consists of FBI agents and Kentucky-based local, state and federal law enforcement officials.
Alwan had pleaded guilty to 11 counts of attempting to provide material support to terrorists, eight counts of attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida in Iraq, a designated foreign terrorist organization, and one count each of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals abroad, conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals abroad, distribution of information on the manufacture and use of improvised explosive devices and conspiring to transfer, possess and export Stinger missiles.
Hammadi pleaded guilty to five counts of attempting to provide material support to terrorists, four counts of attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida in Iraq, two counts of knowingly making a false statement in an immigration application and one count of conspiring to transfer, possess and export Stinger missiles.
Fingerprints tie Alwan to terror
Alwan and Hammadi immigrated to the U.S. in 2009, with Hammadi first residing in Las Vegas before moving to Bowling Green.
Both men had taken part in terror attacks while in Iraq during the American invasion of that country, authorities said, and had become members of terrorist cells affiliated with al-Qaida in Iraq.
Schneider disclosed in court Tuesday that the FBI began investigating Alwan in 2009 after discovering that he had signed a confession while in Iraqi custody to participating in IED attacks.
A government informant met with Alwan in August 2010 and recorded their conversations. The FBI source told Alwan he was involved in shipping money and weapons to the Iraqi insurgency, later specifying that the supplies would go to al-Qaida in Iraq.
From September 2010 to February 2011, Alwan and the informant participated in five deliveries, handling five rocket-propelled grenade launchers, five machine guns, two sniper rifles, two cases of C4 explosives and a purported $375,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western Kentucky.
The supplies were removed from a Bowling Green storage facility and loaded onto a tractor-trailer in hidden compartments.
Between October 2010 and January 2011, Alwan drew diagrams of multiple types of IEDs and instructed the source on how to make them, court records show.
After Alwan’s arrest in May 2011, he detailed his efforts to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq, having joined the insurgency in 2005.
He was arrested the following year for participating in IED attacks.
The U.S. Army recovered an unexploded IED and investigators were able to lift two fingerprints belonging to Alwan from the device, court records show. In his interview with the FBI, Alwan admitted to making and planting IEDs that looked like the one with his fingerprints on them.
Hammadi ‘worth weight in gold’
Schneider said Tuesday that Alwan was interested in becoming a leader of a terrorist cell in Kentucky. The source said Alwan could take on a leadership role if he recruited like-minded people.
Schneider disclosed that two people Alwan attempted to recruit into the operation declined his overtures, but Hammadi agreed to participate and joined Alwan in January 2011.
Alwan vouched for Hammadi to the informant, Schneider said.
“Alwan told the source that Mr. Hammadi was worth his weight in gold and that he was experienced,” Schneider said.
Hammadi and Alwan participated together in five operations from January to May 2011, loading a total of five rocket-propelled grenade launchers, five machine guns, five cases of C4 explosives, two sniper rifles, a box of 12 hand grenades, two Stinger surface-to-air missile launchers and a purported $565,000.
Both men were arrested May 25, 2011, as they prepared to load the final shipment.
Three pictures of Hammadi were shown Tuesday at the hearing. One shows him handling the missile launcher as Alwan gestures toward it, another depicts Hammadi carrying the missile launcher in a zip-up bag and the third shows him handling another large firearm.
After Hammadi’s arrest, he told the FBI about his past as an insurgent, confessing to taking part in an attack on U.S. forces in 2006 in which an IED was detonated by a remote device.
Court records show that Hammadi was part of a terror cell that targeted a Humvee and multiple trucks and that he told the FBI he had been arrested in Iraq for planting IEDs and his first use of a weapon in Iraq was when he fired on a U.S. soldier in an observation tower.
Schneider said Tuesday that Hammadi was arrested in Iraq, but was able to “buy his way” out of prison there.
Hammadi details past
Hammadi’s court-appointed attorney, James Earhart, sought a reduction in his client’s sentence, arguing that the Stinger missile was introduced into the investigation solely to trigger a mandatory minimum 25-year sentence.
Earhart said that Hammadi made a “really stupid” decision in agreeing to participate in the operation with Alwan, but that Hammadi’s role was small, characterizing it as something similar to a “drug mule” who carries illegal drugs from one place to another without necessarily knowing what is in the packages.
Hammadi had lost his job at a poultry plant near Bowling Green after getting sick and was borrowing money because he was unable to pay his rent or buy food, Earhart said.
“Hammadi didn’t know what the work was,” Earhart said about the operation. “He just knew he didn’t have any way to support himself.”
Hammadi, speaking through an interpreter, testified about his childhood in Iraq, saying that he grew up in a three-bedroom house with 12 siblings in a small Iraqi village and lost friends and relatives to bombings during the U.S. invasion.
At some point during the war, Hammadi immigrated to Syria, and was able to immigrate to the U.S. from there. Hammadi testified that Alwan was the only person he knew in the U.S.
Hammadi said he learned what he was transporting with Alwan, but continued to do so because he had seen weapons proliferate in Iraq. He testified, however, that he had only seen Stinger missiles on television prior to coming here.
Schneider cross-examined Hammadi and got him to admit to taking part in terror activities in Iraq and had received only one payment of $750 in April 2011, one month before his arrest, money meant to go toward bills.
Hammadi also admitted to lying on immigration forms about his past as a terrorist.
Schneider also showed a transcript of one of Hammadi’s talks with the informant in which Hammadi brought up the possibility of shipping “Strelas,” which is how Russians refer to Stinger surface-to-air missile launchers.
Hammadi testified that he was still employed at the poultry plant when he agreed to join Alwan and the source in transporting the shipments.
Schneider said Hammadi disclosed to the source that his terror cell had used an explosive mixture that used cocoa as one of its ingredients, and that he would try to find out the mix of ingredients for the informant.
Hammadi had also suggested that money should be sent to Iraq in smaller amounts to reduce the risk of it being seized by authorities, Schneider said, arguing that Hammadi was eager to take part in the operation.
“(Hammadi) is predisposed to help terrorists, he is a former terrorist himself,” Schneider said. “He knew from Day One what the operations were to involve. Hammadi started the discussion with the source about.”
Earhart argued that a life sentence was unreasonable for Hammadi, but the judge ultimately disagreed.
“It is true that Mr. Alwan’s conduct seems to be greater than Mr. Hammadi’s,” Russell said. “However, that does not diminish what Mr. Hammadi did on his own.”
After the hearing, Earhart said that Hammadi would appeal the life sentence.
“The life that (Hammadi) led was a tragedy,” Earhart said. “It’s a sad situation and we just can’t relate to it.”