WASHINGTON (AP) - The first insurgent from the Iraq war prosecuted in U.S. courts pleaded guilty on Thursday to planting roadside bombs. His plea deal carries a 25-year sentence, but the Netherlands will decide how much time he spends in prison.
Iraqi-born Dutch citizen Wesam al-Delaema acknowledged that he and his fellow "Mujahideen from Fallujah" videotaped themselves planting remote-control explosives along a road used by U.S. troops. The explosives did not cause any deaths.
Al-Delaema pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to murder Americans outside the United States, a charge that can carry a sentence of up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine. The Justice Department and al-Delaema have agreed that he will be sentenced to 25 years with no fine - a deal that U.S. Judge Paul L. Friedman said in court that he would approve.
Al-Delaema could end up with a lighter sentence because the agreement also says he will be returned to the Netherlands, where a Dutch judge will determine how much time he should serve under the Netherlands' system.
He was extradited from the Netherlands two years ago in an agreement that said he would be tried in federal court - not by a military commission, such as those set up for terror suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The deal also said al-Delaema could serve his sentence in a Dutch prison if convicted.
Al-Delaema appeared in U.S. District Court wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and headphones so he could hear a simultaneous Arabic translation of the proceedings. He answered the judge in heavily accented English when asked if he wanted to plead guilty: "Yes, I do, your honor."
As part of the deal, he has also agreed to plead guilty next week to aggravated assault in Washington's Superior Court for a December 2007 attack on a corrections officer in the District of Columbia jail. Prosecutors said he kicked a prison guard to the point of unconsciousness, causing a subdural hemorrhage.
The assault charge can carry a sentence of up to 10 years, but prosecutors agreed it should be 18 months to be served at the same time as the 25-year term, so it won't add any time to his sentence by the U.S. courts.
Attorneys on both sides said they were trying to expedite proceedings so al-Delaema can be transferred back to the Netherlands as soon as possible. His sentencing is scheduled for April 15.
"Today's plea demonstrates our continued vigilant efforts to track down and bring to justice terrorists who plot attacks on our citizens, particularly our brave military men and women serving in Iraq," U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor said in a statement. "We hope this sends a message to others plotting to harm our citizens that we will use every tool at our disposal to defend Americans, both at home and abroad."
Al-Delaema, a barber who was born in the area of Fallujah west of Baghdad, immigrated to the Netherlands as a teenager. He traveled to his hometown after the U.S. invasion, where he made the videos planting the roadside bombs.
The video was widely shown on Arabic TV stations and seized by police who raided al-Delaema's house in the Dutch city of Amersfoort in May 2005. Authorities found other recruitment and instructional videos and footage of the effects of the attacks on Americans.
"We, the mujahideen from Fallujah, have a plan, God willing, for today," al-Delaema says on a video dated Oct. 30, 2003. "With God's help, and if the Americans enter, we will hit them with timed mine, by way of remote."
Al-Delaema originally claimed he was innocent, saying he was forced to make the video after being kidnapped and beaten. He said he feared being beheaded if he resisted.
His Dutch attorneys fought his extradition and said the United States didn't have the right to try him. They contended that al-Delaema could be tortured by U.S. authorities and said the U.S. legal system couldn't be trusted.
Al-Delaema's attorneys said Thursday that they plan to appeal Friedman's decision to allow the case to continue in U.S. courts once he has been sentenced. If the Appeals Court was to agree that the United States didn't have the right to try him, he could withdraw his guilty plea.
In a 2003 interview broadcast on Dutch television, al-Delaema accused the U.S. and its allies of waging war in Iraq to control its oil reserves.
"I don't care if I myself die or not," he said. "I want to offer myself up for my land, for my people. I'm not more or less important than the women and children who you see on television dying because of America," al-Delaema said.
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