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Imam exiled in terror plot case

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Flushing imam Ahmad Wais Afzali was sentenced to time served Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn for lying to federal authorities who were investigating a terror plot involving a member of his mosque.

As a condition of his sentence, Afzali is required to leave the United States within 90 days and never return to this country, where his children were born and his family lives.

He will be under electronic monitoring — wearing a tracking anklet — until he is on foreign soil.

Afzali, who is an Afghan but grew up in Queens, served four days in jail between Sept. 20 and 24 before posting $50,000 bail.

Afzali, 38, was calm and collected Thursday during court, making peace before his appearance with three unidentified law enforcement authorities who worked on his case.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen today, but no matter what happens I have no hard feelings,” he told them. “It’s a job you have to do.”

The remarks were in keeping with his other statements Thursday, during which he praised America and denounced the efforts of Zazi and his accused fellow co-conspirators in the plot, former Flushing High School classmates Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay.

Zazi admitted he planned with others to carry out suicide bombings in the New York City subway system around the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Afzali was charged after his arrest in September 2009 with lying in the course of a terror investigation to authorities, whom he falsely told repeatedly that he had not informed Najibullah Zazi, the admitted ringleader of a plot to carry out a series of coordinated suicide bombings on city subways, that he was under investigation.

“I take full responsibility for my actions,” Afzali said in court Thursday. “Honest to God, it was never my intention to help those idiots for what they do in the name of Islam.”

The imam, who worked for the past several years as a liaison between the New York City Police Department and the Queens Muslim and Afghan communities, faced up to five years in prison, but sentencing guidelines suggested he be sentenced to only zero to six months behind bars.

Afzali, who lives in Fresh Meadows, said he does not know where he will go when he leaves the country.

Afzali said he has known Zazi and Medunjanin since they were teenagers who frequented his mosque to play volleyball and pray. On Sept. 10, 2009, police asked Afzali to provide information about the two men and he agreed to do so, according to his allocution.

On Sept. 11, he called Zazi and told him law enforcement had been in contact with him about the young man and that their telephone conversation was being monitored, Afzali said. On Sept. 13, he was interrogated by FBI agents, whom he believed were angry at him for calling Zazi, and he lied and said he had not done so. He repeated the lie Sept. 18 at the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, he admitted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Loonam said in court Thursday that despite Afzali’s apologies for his actions and his explanations, he had engaged in serious crimes.

“What the defendant did was play both sides, almost certainly without realizing the seriousness of his conduct,” he said. “And he lied repeatedly to the FBI.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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