MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Two Pakistani-born men plead guilty in Florida federal court to various charges of conspiracy to aid terrorist groups and intent to commit terrorist acts on New York landmarks.
Thirty-two year-old Sheheryar Alam Qazi and 22-year-old Raees Alam Qazi appeared before U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom on Thursday morning for a change-of-plea hearing as part of a plea deal.
In this plea agreement, Raees Alam Qazi admitted to traveling to Manhattan in 2012 to scout major landmarks and set off a massive bomb. He aborted the mission when he ran out of money. He was arrested after returning to Broward County, Florida, where the brothers lived.
The men previously pleaded not guilty to several terrorism-related charges, including conspiracy to provide material support.
The brothers are also charged with assaulting two U.S. Marshals while being escorted in the Miami court complex. On Thursday, they both plead guilty to that charge.
They were originally charged with attempted murder of the Marshals, who they punched and wrestled with while screaming “God is great!” in Arabic.
“And that was crafted in such a way that they would not face up to life in prison, in addition to the terrorism charge,” said Jay Weaver, Miami Herald’s federal courts reporter.
The attorney for the older brother told CBS4’s Gary Nelson, they knew they didn’t stand a chance at trial.
“He decided to enter a guilty plea. As he told the court, he did so because he was in fact guilty,” said Attorney William Barzee.
Federal prosecutor Karen Gilbert said on Thursday, terrorism Internet sites “encouraged brothers in the West to conduct violent jihad and how to select targets in the attack.” She also said the younger brother “conducted intense computer research regarding Al-Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction.”
Prosecutors said the brothers planned to use Christmas tree bulbs as explosives.
The two brothers were caught by the controversial National Security Agency cell phone monitoring system. Federal agents taped them communicating with Al-Qaeda in the Middle East. They were angry that U.S. drones were attacking terrorists in Pakistan.
Key evidence includes FBI wiretap and other communications intercepts.
Prosecutors and the defense recommended the siblings get 17 years.
“We made a joint recommendation on the plea agreement and we think it is the appropriate sentence for the conduct that the defendants engaged in,” said Gilbert.
But on Thursday, the judge made it clear, she’s in charge, asking the brothers, “In regard to any recommendation as to sentencing, do you understand that I can reject that and impose a punishment more severe?”
“Yes,” the brothers replied.
Raees Alam Qazi faces up to 35 years behind bars while Sheheryar Alam Qazi faces up to 20 years in jail.
Sentencing for both brothers has been set for June 5, 2015.
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