(AP) HOUSTON - A Texas man convicted of trying to sneak out of the U.S. to give al Qaeda restricted military documents, GPS equipment and money was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison - the maximum he could receive.
Barry Walter Bujol Jr., a U.S. citizen, was convicted in November on charges of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and aggravated identity theft.
"We do not take matters of potential national security lightly," U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said in a statement.
Before his sentence was handed down, Bujol told the judge he never wanted to hurt anyone.
"I'm a person, not a terrorist," he said in a brief statement, adding that he had made some mistakes.
Bujol's attorney, Daphne Silverman, had asked for a sentence of seven years, saying her client was not dangerous.
Prosecutors said Bujol sought to join al Qaeda and provide it with money, two restricted-access Army manuals related to U.S. drones and GPS equipment. He was arrested in May 2010 after he used fake identification to sneak into a Houston port and board a ship bound for the Middle East.
The 31-year-old said he never intended to harm the United States or any American citizens, and that he had wanted to leave the country was because he was displeased with U.S. foreign policy, particularly drone attacks. He said he wanted to become a better Muslim.
"We are using drones to murder and attack people," Silverman told the judge. "It was a valid position (Bujol) was taking ... to disapprove of drones. That's what his concern was, defending people and not hurting people."
Authorities used an undercover informant who befriended Bujol and, posing as a recruiter for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, offered to help him travel to the Middle East. The informant was not a law enforcement agent.
Prosecutors also alleged Bujol exchanged emails with the U.S.-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who had ties to al Qaeda. Al-Awlaki, killed by a U.S. drone strike in September in Yemen, is also believed to have exchanged emails with Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged in the killing of 13 people in the November 2009 shootings at Fort Hood in Texas.
Silverman said Bujol had a very brief email exchange with al-Awlaki, but that was before the cleric was known to have ties to terrorism and Bujol only sought spiritual advice.
She also said the informant led Bujol led astray.
Tariq Ahmed, an attorney with the Muslim Civil Liberties Union, which also worked on Bujol's case, said many Muslims in Houston were afraid to speak out on Bujol's behalf because they didn't want to be associated with a terror-related case.